ITHACA, N.Y. — On a night when its football team saw its national title hopes evaporate, the Ohio State hockey team showed again it could be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Fighting off eight power plays against and three power-play goals, Ohio State withstood the storm and got a goal from Dave Steckel with 53 seconds left in regulation to defeat Cornell, 4-3, Saturday night.
Cornell had tied the game on a power-play goal early in the period, but after taking a few minutes to shake off the cobwebs — and to kill off another power play — the Buckeyes reasserted themselves, and controlled the last six minutes of the game.
“I thought in the last seven minutes, you could see the hunger we were starting to generate, and they were starting to clamp up a little bit,” said Ohio State coach John Markell. “And you expect that from your experienced guys. They had a feel for what they could do, and that’s great.”
“We talked about that going into the period,” said Steckel. “We have to ride out the first five minutes of every period. And they have a great fan system here — who wouldn’t love playing here — but we held them to the best of our ability.”
The winning goal came after Dave Andress twice held the puck in at the point, and on the second effort got it towards the net. The puck caromed off the end boards and came out in front. Steckel was knocked down, but used his long frame to shoot it from his knees and into an open side, past Cornell goalie Dave McKee.
“Doug made a great play,” said Steckel. “The last two shifts of our line especially we applied great pressure and kept the puck in. We didn’t necessarily have control, but we were battling for it. … They did a great job tying guys up in front all night, but I got loose for a second.”
It was the culmination of another frustrating night for Cornell, which generated little at 5-on-5, and dropped to 0-2-2 at home (all nonleague), a place where it went 15-0 last season.
“We made a couple mistakes on the play, it wasn’t just the actual goal,” said Cornell captain Ryan Vesce. “We had some mistakes coming through the neutral zone, so it’s frustrating.”
Despite leading most of the game, Ohio State saw Cornell rally thanks to three power-play goals. In all, the Big Red had eight power-play chances to Ohio State’s three, which frustrated Markell, who felt his team was victim of some hometown officiating by Joel Dupree.
“We’re very proud, especially when we play almost 20 minutes of hockey shorthanded [the exact time was just under 12],” said Markell. “That’s what upset us so much, but it’s also what fueled the fire.
“What I’m upset about is, if he’s going to call it that way, don’t put the whistle in the pocket. You’ve got to let the players decide the game, and unfortunately he didn’t do that. But it hardened us a little bit. I thought Cornell played hard, but it’s unfortunate the taste that’s in our mouth right now.”
Despite it all, No. 12 (and sure to move up) Ohio State completed a road sweep, and improved to 5-1 away from home.
“We’re playing great on the road,” Steckel said. “That was one of the things we did our first year here, and I think a lot of the seniors are bringing that back this year with leadership.”
Ohio State scored the only goal of the first period, after Cornell turned the puck over behind their own net. J.B. Bittner came in to take it away and fed a backhander to Steckel who was waiting in front. Steckel easily pumped it in.
“Bittner, I love playing with the guy,” Steckel said. “He’s a great player and works hard, and makes plays like that. I was just fortunate enough to put one home there.”
Cornell (3-2-3) has allowed the first goal in six of its eight games.
“We’re making stupid mistakes right now that other teams are capitalizing on early in the game,” Vesce said. “We just have to cut down on those.”
Ohio State increased the lead just 39 seconds into the second period. Steckel came down the right wing and took a slapper that missed, but caromed out the other way. Paul Caponigri followed up on the play and put it into an open net, his 10th goal of the season.
Most of the second period was played with very little in the way of scoring chances on either side, but a series of power plays changed that.
A bad giveaway in the defensive zone by Ohio State led to a Cornell power play, and the Big Red took advantage, as Mike Knoepfli fed Shane Hynes in front, who tapped it in to make it 2-1 Ohio State.
In turn, the Buckeyes came back with a power play of their own, and immediately got a two-goal lead back, as Bittner’s slapper found its way through a screen, off McKee’s pad and in.
Dupree came right back, however, and whistled Ohio State for another one, and again Cornell took advantage. Vesce pounded in a second effort goal off a scramble, and made it 3-2 after two periods.
“Chris Abbott had a real good shot that got saved,” Vesce said. “The rebound came out to me somehow, and I was just hammering away at it.”
Said Markell, “They broke our PK a little bit. But we’ll learn off how they did it.”