COLUMBUS, Ohio — With goals at :28 and 1:28 in the first period, the Buckeyes looked to run away Saturday, but the Mavericks made a game of it in the second to cut a three-goal deficit to just one, as Ohio State squeaked by Nebraska-Omaha 4-3.
Senior Scott May had the game-winning goal and an assist, and his classmate, Paul Caponigri, had three helpers. Three of the four OSU goals came on the power play — including the first marker less than a minute into the game — in a contest that saw 84 minutes between the teams. UNO had 19 penalties for 62 minutes, including three 10-minute misconducts.
“It started right from the start of the game,” said Maverick head coach Mike Kemp. “It was just one of those where the game was going to be called tight … and we had to play with it that way.”
Six seconds into the game, Maverick Ryan Bennett went to the box for roughing with contact to the head. May took the initial shot that led to Andrew Schembri’s goal at :28. UNO goaltender Kris Tebbs blocked the shot but lost the rebound, which lay motionless on the goal line in front of an essentially empty net. Schembri dove at the puck from the right post to knock it in, giving OSU a very early 1-0 lead.
Sixty seconds later, Bryce Anderson circumnavigated the UNO cage to backhand in his third goal of the year, and it was 2-0 OSU before the game was two minutes old.
At 4:59, Alex Nikiforuk capitalized on the Maverick power play to cut the OSU lead in half, but OSU’s Dan Knapp made it 3-1 — another power-play goal — at 8:18.
“[Tebbs] was fighting it right from the start,” said Kemp. “For some reason, Kris came out tonight and he was not on his game at all. The first two shots went in, and he let in three of the first six. I thought that was just the appropriate time to end the bleeding.”
Chris Holt took over for Tebbs after Knapp’s goal, and went on to stop 19 shots. The only one that got past him was May’s power-play goal at 14:23 in the first, the goal that held up to be the game-winner, when the Buckeyes had a two-man advantage.
The first period ended 4-1, took more than 40 minutes to complete, and saw 52 minutes in penalties. Twenty-two of those came at the period’s closing buzzer, when Bennett and Nikiforuk were each given misconducts, and Nikiforuk picked up the extra two for hitting after the whistle.
Scott Parse and Mike Lefley scored for UNO in the second to make it a 4-3 game, as each even-strength goal was the direct result of a Buckeye turnover in the OSU end. From behind the goal line to the right of the OSU net, Andrew Wong passed back to Parse, who went short side at 4:05 for his 13th goal of the season, again cutting the OSU lead in half. Lefley went five-hole on Buckeye goaltender Dave Caruso at 13:45 to bring the Mavs within one.
“They capitalized on a lot of our turnovers,” said May. “We’re a team lately that just tries to keep it simple. The defensemen just threw it off the glass and we got caught a couple of times in our own zone. They made us pay.”
The scoreless third period was anything but dull, with plenty of clutching and grabbing and an empty net to close the contest. The extracurricular activity continued right down to the buzzer, with referee Steve Piotrowski and linesmen Ken Landis and Justin Perrone having to separate players just before the handshake. At the closing buzzer, OSU’s Dave Steckel was given a two-minute minor for slashing while UNO’s Bobby Henderson picked up three minor penalties.
Kemp said that he talked to his players during the first intermission — after OSU had already netted three power-play goals — about the need to settle down. “Primarily, we discussed the fact that being undisciplined and getting ourselves involved in situations that would put our team shorthanded was unacceptable. We had to play within ourselves, play smart, and get back to the basics of the game. I was proud of the way our guys pulled through.”
The win was the third in a row for Caruso, who struggled with all three UNO goals, especially Lefley’s five-hole shot. “Dave played a good game,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “Maybe he wasn’t up to … what he was yesterday, but he was there when we needed him. Anytime you’re up 4-1, we have to respond better than what we did in the second.”
As with Friday night’s win, Markell wasn’t completely satisfied, although he’s happy to take the points.
“It was a little disappointing,” he said. “I thought that they picked up their game. They were just getting stuff deep on us and working on us. We got back to it there in the third period. I thought we played a little of our game plan and slowed them down a little bit. We’re awfully banged up right now. I thought it was a game effort after that [the second period]. We settled down a little bit.
“You have to respect Nebraska. They came back. They fought. I thought they played four out of six good periods of hockey. They played their game, tried to outmuscle us, and it was working. The first period cost them both nights.
“We’ve got to get healthier in the next four days. We’re going to have a tough series up there against Western Michigan.”
Next up for the Buckeyes (19-13-0, 14-10-0 CCHA) is a two-game series against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo Feb. 20-21. The Mavericks (6-19-5, 4-16-4 CCHA) travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State those same dates.
“I think we’re going to have to play a lot better going down the stretch,” said May. “They’re an 11th-place team, and we’re playing Western next weekend and then Miami and we’re right in the playoffs. We’re going to have to pick our game up in all aspects.”