COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second consecutive night, Ohio State captain J.B. Bittner scored the game-winning goal as the Buckeyes completed a weekend sweep of visiting Alaska-Fairbanks, winning tonight 3-2.
“I was very happy with the effort and the result,” said OSU head coach John Markell.
“Obviously, Alaska’s a good hockey team. We were fortunate that Mike Betz kept us in the game early. I thought they did a good job of creating chances for themselves.”
Betz weathered the storm early as the Nanooks outshot the Buckeyes 14-8 in the first period. His effort included some split-second timing late in the first when he was out of and behind the net, recovering in time to stop Kelly Czuy from putting the Nanooks ahead by two goals.
That, said UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky, might have been the difference in the game.
“Betz made an unbelievable save on Kelly Czuy from Curtis Fraser from behind the net. I don’t know how he did it,” said Gadowsky. “When I looked up I thought he was well out of the net. I really don’t know how he made the save.
“Right in your own mind, when things like that happen, you think, turning point right there. But you know what? I think they were a smarter team than us or at least they found a way to stay out of the box a lot better than we did, and when you look at a 3-2 win, that has a lot to do with it.”
Bittner’s game-winner came on the OSU power play at 15:04 in the third with Czuy in the box for cross-checking, a one-time blast from the left circle that beat Nanook netminder Preston McKay long and clean. The Nanooks were 0-for-4 on the power play.
Ryan Campbell’s second goal of the weekend was UAF’s first goal of the night, at 3:33 of the first, a wrap-around goal assisted by Aaron Voros and Scott Vockeroth. Dan Knapp knotted it for OSU eight minutes later when he beat Felipe Larranaga down the ice, after another Nanook overshot a pass to Larranaga on the left point. Knapp skated down the right wing, crossed over to center, and lifted the puck up and past McKay on the glove side.
The first period ended 1-1.
The second period remained scoreless through 18 minutes, until Andrew Schembri netted his first collegiate goal to give the Buckeyes the lead. Thomas Welsh dumped the puck into the UAF zone where Nanook defenseman David Keough knocked it out of the air at the top of the left circle. Keough couldn’t get wood on rubber, though, and Schembri won the toss, danced around Keough to get to the net, and blasted it long past McKay.
Schembri, who had 50 goals in 48 games for Cornwall in the Central Junior Hockey League, said he was “thrilled” to “finally” score one for OSU.
“The puck just came up and I just made a move,” said Schembri. “I just wanted to get it on net. I shot it and it went in. Big plays like that, I’m expected to do.”
Larranaga had a goal of his own at 17:57 in the third to make things interesting, but Betz — who hasn’t seen forty shots since Oct. 12, 2002, when the Buckeyes lost 7-2 to Minnesota to kick off the 2002-03 season — came up big against Campbell, Czuy, Scott Vockeroth, and Ryan Lang.
“The way he was playing tonight, had the calming effect for me, that he was there,” said Markell. “I think that’s important, and I think our kids understood that too. They got a goal early and it didn’t seem to affect him, and he came back up with some big saves.
“He was able to see the puck, and maybe you get a little loose up front when that happens and maybe we did, but they created their chances and there were a lot of momentum switches because of the penalties and stuff like that, but in the end we were determined and we got the win.”
The game was less chippy than last night’s contest, which saw two minor penalties for running the goaltender — one to Schembri, one to Voros — and 40 total minutes. One thing that changed only slightly was the amount of time that Voros spent in the box. The Nanook junior spent six minutes in lockdown tonight, as opposed to seven last night. Voros saw no ice time in the second period after taking a penalty for charging at 1:20, and then found his way to the box again on his very next shift, at :57 of the third.
Said Gadowsky, “You can have different opinions on what a penalty is and what isn’t. Aaron Voros draws a lot of attention, he deserves a lot of penalties, but because he’s Aaron Voros he gets a lot that he doesn’t deserve.
“But regardless, the refs aren’t adapting to us; we’ve got to adapt to the refs. Whether they’re justified penalties or not, he was having trouble finding a way to stay out of the box.”
Markell said that the Nanooks were the best team the Buckeyes have seen this season, and Bittner — who, after tonight, is riding a six-game, goal-scoring streak — said that tonight’s game was much harder to win.
“We knew that the way their team plays and the way they’re coached, that they would come out a lot harder. They come out hard every game. They’re a tough team to play against. Second night, guys are more tired, we couldn’t find our legs there and guys were just trying to give everything they had and I’m sure they were too, so it was definitely a lot harder tonight.”
The four points earned this weekend give Ohio State sole possession of first place in the CCHA standings, with Notre Dame and Michigan State tied for second, while UAF ties with Northern Michigan for eighth place.
Next up for the Nanooks (3-5-0, 2-2-0 CCHA) is a two-game home stint against Western Michigan, Nov. 7-8, while the Buckeyes (6-3-0, 5-1-0 CCHA) travel to Northern Michigan for two on the same dates.