COLUMBUS, Ohio — Andrew Schembri made the most of two early Maverick mistakes and Dave Caruso made a late mistake of his own that cost him his second consecutive shutout in Ohio State’s 3-1 win over Nebraska-Omaha.
“The Buckeyes came out and played a sound, solid effort from start to finish,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp. “It’s kind of a microcosm of our entire season. We made a couple of errors, and the end up in the back of our net. Obviously, against a team that has the scoring punch of Ohio State, that’s going to hurt you.”
Schembri, Dan Knapp, and Scott May each had two-point games for the Buckeyes, with Knapp scoring the third goal and assisting on Schembri’s second. Caruso had 24 saves in a clutch contest that fell short of OSU head coach John Markell’s expectations.
“I thought we got two points,” said Markell. “Do I think it was a complete a game as we had last weekend on Saturday night? No. I thought there are definitely things that we revert to, and we have to keep executing and executing and executing. We were fortunate tonight that we taught ourselves another lesson, and we’d better learn a lot about it in the next 24 hours.”
Schembri’s first goal was the result of a Maverick turnover at the UNO blue line. May touched the puck to Schembri, who skated up the middle, alone, on Maverick goaltender Chris Holt, shifted from backhand to forehand and placed the puck between Holt and the left post for his ninth goal of the season at 4:11.
Four minutes later, OSU stripped the puck deep in the UNO zone and cycled near the Maverick net. Knapp centered from the near side of the left circle to May, and May dropped the puck back for Schembri left of the net while keeping Holt in the middle of the crease, giving Schembri a big target for the 2-0 Buckeye lead.
After a sustained effort by both teams through the first 20 minutes, the Bucks and Mavs combined for 14 penalty minutes in the second period, with OSU finding itself more often than not having to fend off the league’s second-best power play.
“I thought it was a chippy hockey game,” said Markell. “We were in the box a lot, and we were responding to whatever they were doing. I thought in the second period when we were killing off eight minutes of penalties, it got to us. We can’t let that happen tomorrow.”
On the tail end of a power play of their own, the Buckeyes made it 3-0 on Knapp’s tip-in of Tyson Strachan’s shot at 11:25 in the second.
Though the Mavericks pressured the Buckeyes through the closing stanza, it looked as though Caruso was on his way to his fifth career shutout and second in as many games until Scott Parse stole the puck from Caruso — in the left faceoff circle.
“I was out of the net, so I don’t count that goal,” joked Caruso.
Caruso, a good skater, likes to come out of the net to play the puck when he can. According to Caruso, everything was under control, sort of.
“Everybody on this side” — Caruso gestured to his left, right if you’re looking at the net — “was covered, so I know if I go out there, I can pretty much make a good play. I saw Bo [OSU forward Matt Beaudoin] right there and I tried to use my butt to shoo it off and just do a little chip to Matt, and it was kind of a rolling puck and it went straight to the guy.”
That guy was Parse.
“Then all I remember is my head hitting the ground and I don’t remember the rest of it.
“That’s goalie-talk for he came out of the net and tried make a play,” added Knapp, helpfully.
“But see,” Caruso continued, “what I should have done is gone straight out after it and rip it up [the] left wing. That’s what I should have done.”
But he didn’t. Caruso tripped while playing the puck, Parse passed to Kaleb Betts, and Betts found the empty net for his seventh goal of the season.
Neither team converted on the power play; UNO had six chances, OSU five.
“Our power play has been pretty effective all year,” said Kemp. “They didn’t get the job done, and we’ve been relying on them to get the job done.
“Both teams are among the top in the country in the penalty kill. The Buckeyes were 92 or 93 percent on the penalty kill last month … so both penalty-killing units did a great job of disrupting the power play. Our guys were … almost too patient, holding the puck too long, not getting the shots when they had the opportunity to shoot.
“We had the opportunities to get back into the game, but when you’re a team that only scores on average two goals a game, that’s a tough, tough hill to climb on the road.
“Tonight, I thought we fought and battled — from the effort standpoint, I’m proud of these kids. We’re not fighting for home ice in the playoffs; we’re fighting for survival.”
Although the Buckeyes picked up two key points, the game was costly in other ways to OSU. “We’ve got a few guys hurt,” said Markell.
J.B. Bittner, OSU’s captain, left the game with an undisclosed injury in the first period and did not return. That further shortened a bench bitten by the injury bug; sophomore defenseman and assistant captain Nate Guenin was injured last weekend in Big Rapids.
The teams will meet again Saturday night at 7:05 for their final regular-season contest. With the loss, Nebraska-Omaha (6-18-5, 4-15-4 CCHA) remains in 11th place; Ohio State (18-13-0, 13-10-0 CCHA) breaks its fifth-place tie with idle Western Michigan with the win.
“I think we can pick up our game quite a bit tomorrow, and I think we have to if we want to beat that hockey club,” said Markell. “I thought they put a good effort in. They finished their checks. They played a consistent game. We’re going to have to play as hard as we did in the first period and stay out of the box.”