COLUMBUS, Ohio — On the strength of their penalty kill and an overall solid performance from goaltender Mike Betz, Ohio State downed Michigan, 5-2, to earn a weekend split with the Wolverines and remain in first place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings.
Dave Steckel’s fluky goal in the second period held up as the game-winner, as OSU continued its lose-Friday, win-Saturday pattern. The Buckeyes are now 2-5-0 on Fridays and 6-0-0 on Saturdays, and the reason is a mystery to all involved.
OSU head coach John Markell called the win “a good feeling,” but added, “In the back of my mind is our Friday night stuff. It’s almost like a hex. Our guys have to continue learning that somebody doesn’t have to slap them in the face [for them] to respond. Let’s hope we can continue learning.”
Steckel, who was credited with the lucky bounce goal in the second, said, “I don’t know what it is with Friday night and Saturday night, to tell you the truth. I guess we need to get kicked in the butt before we come out to play.”
And senior Scott May, who scored OSU’s first goal of the game and added an assist on Dan Knapp’s third-period goal, made it unanimous. “To be totally honest with you, I don’t really know. I think if we knew, we’d try to fix it.”
Michigan’s Dwight Helminen scored his second goal of the weekend and his fifth in three games against OSU just 21 seconds into the contest, but then the Buckeyes did something that they hadn’t done against the Wolverines in a very long time — they responded with a goal of their own.
The Wolverines made quick work of a Buckeye turnover on the first shift of the game to take that 1-0 lead. Helminen took an initial shot which ricocheted off of Betz’s glove and then the right post. David Brown, who had a goal and an assist in last night’s contest, found the rebound and shot. The puck careened off of an OSU defender and went up and over the net, where Brown found it again behind the cage. Brown lost his edge, but Helminen was there to pick up the puck behind and to the left of the OSU net. Helminen skated to the left of the crease and put it home, long.
It took OSU just three minutes to respond, on a play that May initiated in one end of the rink and finished in the other. May dug the puck out of the corner behind the Buckeye net and sent a long pass to Doug Andress, who then passed up to Dave Barton. Barton centered from the left wing to May, who was crashing in through the slot. May’s one-timer beat Michigan goaltender Al Montoya clean to tie the game, 1-1, at 3:46.
At 15:40, Kenny Bernard and Lee Spector skated in on a two-on-two break, with Bernard left. Drawn to defend against Bernard, Montoya was unable to recover when, close to the crease, Bernard passed right to Spector, who popped the puck into an essentially empty net. The Buckeyes led 2-1 after one.
Much as Montoya held the Wolverines steady as the Buckeyes threatened in the middle stanza of Friday’s contest, Betz was the glue that held OSU together through the second tonight. First came Steckel’s gift of a goal at :28 in the second, a rebound shot that went back into the net off of Helminen’s skate.
The Buckeyes led 3-1, but the Wolverines caught a five-minute break when Buckeye Chris Olsgard earned a major penalty and game misconduct for hitting from behind at 15:03. Olsgard’s penalty came when Barton was already in the box for holding the stick, but midway through Michigan’s five-on-three advantage, Betz made a clutch stop on David Moss at the left post that permanently swung the momentum the Buckeye way.
When down just a skater, OSU had three odd-man rushes for the remainder of the five-on-four, scoring shorthanded at 18:29 to lengthen the lead to three. Paul Caponigri flew down the right wing and crossed to the center, where he was dumped into the crease by a Michigan defender. Caponigri took two shots on net, picking up his initial rebound, but the second shot lay in the crease, motionless, as big as the moon — with Montoya tangled up with Caponigri and a Wolverine — giving J.B. Bittner the chance to score his eighth goal of the season.
“It looked like we never passed the puck out there,” said Michigan junior Eric Nystrom. “We had a great chance, a five-minute power play, and I think we might have gotten one or two shots on that. That’s a hats-off to their penalty kill also. I think they probably watched some tape on us and played the way they should. They were aggressive. We didn’t get any chances.”
The Wolverines redoubled their efforts in the third period, keeping the pressure on Betz even after Dan Knapp scored at 11:52 to make it 5-1. The effort paid off in the form of a single goal, when Brandon Kaleniecki netted his fifth of the season at 16:11, but in spite of outshooting the Buckeyes 19-5 in the closing period and 46-29 in the game, the Wolverines couldn’t make up the difference.
“They came out tonight in the third period and tried to change the momentum, and we try to learn from that too,” said Markell. “They kept coming and kept coming and kept coming. You can always learn something in that situation.”
“Ohio State played their game to a ‘T’. They’re a great defensive team,” said Nystrom. “They had the fewest goals against coming into this weekend. I think we had forty-seven shots but I don’t know how many of those were grade-A chances.”
The win was the first for the Buckeyes (8-5-0, 7-3-0 CCHA) over the Wolverines (9-3-0, 5-3-0 CCHA) since Jan. 12, 2001, and May’s goal was the first for OSU against Michigan in three games. The Wolverines blanked the Buckeyes 3-0 in last year’s CCHA Super Six tournament semifinals, and beat them 4-0 last night.
Michigan takes next week off, returning to the ice for the College Hockey Showcase Nov. 28 against Wisconsin in Yost Arena. Next weekend, the Buckeyes travel to central New York for nonconference games against Colgate (Nov. 21) and Cornell (Nov. 22).