ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A few minutes into the third period of Friday’s game at Yost Arena, the public address announcer had a little update to give: “In earlier action, Ohio State 21, Michigan 35.”
It was a reminder of Michigan’s victory on the gridiron — way back in November — and a reminder that Michigan-Ohio State will always be a football rivalry first.
But the hockey matchup has a few similarities to its football counterpart. Friday’s game was tight, physical and important for the conference standings.
Michigan (13-7-1 overall, 8-4-1 CCHA) grabbed a 3-2 victory in what coach Red Berenson called “a hard-fought battle.” The two points vaulted the Wolverines to the top of the CCHA.
Going into Friday’s game, Michigan sat sixth in the conference, but trailed third-place Ohio State by just one point. The Wolverines’ win moved them ahead of the Buckeyes (13-8-0, 8-5-0) and into a tie with Miami and Michigan State. Saturday is the final regular-season meeting between Michigan and Ohio State.
Jason Ryznar scored the game-winning goal, and Milan Gajic and Matt Hunwick each had two points. Al Montoya made 27 saves for the Wolverines, while the Buckeyes’ Mike Betz stopped 26 of 29 shots.
Afterward, Berenson praised the Buckeyes.
“I thought we had trouble getting up to speed with them, in particular in the second period,” Berenson said. “We were lucky to get back in the game.”
Betz said it takes a complete game to beat Michigan.
“You can’t just come with effort, you have to come with effort, intelligence, discipline and everything else,” the goalie said. “It’s not just a one-dimensional thing; we have to have everything.”
Betz added the Buckeyes will have keep in mind the first weekend series between the two teams this season, when Ohio State bounced back from a Friday loss to win 5-2.
Michigan struck first with a power-play goal in the first period. Eric Nystrom banged in a pass from Gajic at 4:32.
Ohio State went up 2-1 with two quick goals in the penalty-ridden second period. Rod Pelley put the Buckeyes on the board at 7:52 with assists from Paul Caponigri and Sean Collins. Seventeen seconds later, Dan Knapp beat Montoya glove-side. Nate Guenin and Daymen Bencharski assisted on the goal.
Knapp, a Michigan native, said scoring a goal with his family in the stands was “something special.”
But it wasn’t enough to give the Buckeyes the win.
Michigan received a 5-on-3 opportunity with 3:28 left in the period, but couldn’t take advantage until Ohio State got one penalized player back. Gajic earned his second point of the night when he picked the top-left corner of the Buckeyes’ net. Defensemen Hunwick and Eric Werner recorded assists.
“It’s nice to see a goal-scorer score a big goal, when the game is on the line and you really need a goal,” Berenson said. “And (Gajic is) a goal-scorer. That’s a top goalie (that he beat).”
Shortly after the Yost announcer made his football reference in the third period, Ryznar scooped up a loose puck in front of Betz and flipped it in to put Michigan back on top. Hunwick earned his second assist of the game on Ryznar’s goal.
Sophomore Jeff Tambellini continues to lead Michigan with nine goals, despite not scoring for the Wolverines since a Nov. 8 game against Ferris State. Tambellini did have two goals and three assists for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, which were held Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Helsinki.
Before the game, Tambellini, Montoya and Hunwick were recognized for their participation in the World Juniors. Montoya backstopped the U.S. to its first-ever gold medal. Hunwick, a freshman, was a late addition to the American team.