DETROIT — After persevering through two come-from-behind overtime Super Six contests, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Michigan Wolverines, 4-2, for the CCHA championship.
It’s the second postseason league title for the Buckeyes, their first since 1972.
“I thought it was a fantastic effort on our players’ part, especially the third game in three nights, and a fantastic effort on Michigan’s part,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “In the third period, they really gave us everything they had. It’s hard to put teams away.
“Our guys were resilient. The 21 guys out there tonight put their hearts and souls into that.”
After a scoreless first period, the Buckeyes exploded for three goals in the second to take a 3-0 lead, but midway through the third, fatigue and a suddenly-spirited Michigan team caught up.
The Wolverines scored two within a three-minute span to get within one, but a shorthanded empty-netter sealed OSU’s victory.
“Ohio State was playing with a lot of emotion coming off of two big overtime wins, and we didn’t catch up to that emotion until the middle of the third period,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “We never gave ourselves a chance.”
Dan Knapp’s late second-period goal was the game winner. Paul Caponigri — the tournament MVP — had a goal and an assist, and Doug Andress had two goals for the Buckeyes, including the long lob to the empty net with 31 seconds left.
Dave Caruso made 26 stops in just his ninth win of the season.
“I still don’t have any feeling right now,” said Caponigri. “I didn’t want to leave the ice. We did well for two periods to get what we wanted and then we just hung on. We got some great bounces, which you need at any time in pressure situations. I have no words to describe how I feel. It’s unbelievable.”
The scoreless first period was nearly all Ohio State, with the Buckeyes outshooting the Wolverines 17-5 and holding the puck for nearly the entire period.
The chances Michigan did get were quality. On the power play early on, Caruso made his first two saves of the game on a shot and rebound from close in. Caruso stopped Brandon Kaleniecki’s initial shot with his right arm, then on his back sticked Jeff Tambellini’s rebound on the left side.
At 11:53, Caruso made a save on Dwight Helminen that was nearly identical to the stop he made on Greg Hogeboom in last night’s contest against Miami to preserve the 3-3 tie with less than two in the game.
After the Buckeyes turned it over behind their own net, T.J. Hensick passed from behind the cage to Helminen, left of the crease. Helminen tried to do the right thing — lifting the puck and shooting for the far side — but Caruso scooped up the shot like an outfielder handling a routine grounder.
Toward the end of the period, OSU pressured even harder and kept the puck in the Michigan zone for a full minute, forcing Al Montoya to make several saves on his back before Jason Dest landed on top of the puck, and after the resulting faceoff, Michigan returned the favor with a flurry of its own in front of the OSU net. The action ended with Knapp pawing the puck out of the crease.
The Buckeyes took the 1-0 lead on Paul Caponigri’s 17th goal of the season 2:50 into the second. Rod Pelley lunged for the puck behind the Michigan net to shuffle it over to Caponigri right of the net. The wraparound shot hit Montoya’s five-hole and squibbed through, crossing the goal line in slow motion before Montoya could get a glove on it.
Andress quickly made it 2-0 following a stoppage of play because of a set of coincidental minors. OSU won the faceoff and play moved into the Michigan zone, where Caponigri fired from the top of the left circle, hitting the far post. The huge rebound came to Andress at the right point, and his shot beat Montoya long at 4:04.
With 3:10 to go in the middle stanza, Michigan’s Jeff Tambellini had a chance to cut OSU’s lead in half with a wide-open net on a Wolverine power play, but he couldn’t put his stick to the ice in time to pick up a Brandon Kalenieki rebound and fanned on the shot.
The Buckeyes converted on their first power play of the night when Knapp earned his 13th of the season. Andress fired wide of the net from the left point. Knapp picked up the rebound off the backboard left of and behind the net, turned, fired, and banked it off Montoya’s backside at 19:07. OSU led 3-0 after two.
OSU came out flying again at the start of the third, but the Wolverines finally matched their intensity midway through the period and popped in two goals to bring the previously-stunned Michigan crowd to life and pull within one goal of tying it up. Milan Gajic tipped in Nick Martens’ shot from the top of the left circle to make it 3-1 at 10:40, and Brandon Rogers took a cross-crease feed from Tambellini at 13:06 to make it a one-goal game.
Late in the third, the fatigued Buckeyes did everything they could to keep the puck out of the net, including filling in for Caruso when he misplayed the puck.
“I was trying to shield him off and try to chip it and I was hoping one of our guys would come in,” said Caruso, “but I didn’t send it up. It was pretty much my fault, but it all worked out.”
Andress’s dead-on PK clear at 19:29 hit the empty net and made it a 4-2 win.
The Buckeyes denied the Wolverines Michigan’s third consecutive Mason Cup. It’s the first time since 1988 that a team from a state other than Michigan captured the postseason crown; Bowling Green beat Lake State, 5-3, for that one.
“I think the game obviously was game between a team that was supposed to be a favorite and team that was supposed to be tired,” said Berenson. “I think everybody saw that Ohio State was the better team right from the start of the game. They were winning the faceoffs — I don’t think we’ve had a worse start in our season in terms of faceoffs and being outplayed and outshot and outchanced.”
OSU fended off two teams through two overtime contests — coming back from deficits three times in each game — to win this one, a feat that Berenson said deserves praise.
“You’ve got to give them credit. This format is not supposed to favor a team that plays Thursday and Friday and then has to play again on Saturday, but obviously a team can do that, they can get through it. I think this is the second time a team has done that, and good for them. You have to give Ohio State all the credit in the world.”
“You’ve got understand that it’s a long process that these guys go through each and every day, the grind of practicing and working out and you realize your dreams and you understand why you’re doing it,” said Markell. “It’s nice to see a payback for these guys with the heart and soul I’ve seen the last couple of years — the last four years from our seniors — and it’s just a fantastic finish to this weekend.
“The hardest one to get is your first one, and we’ve got our first one now and we can build on that.”
The win assures Ohio State (25-15-0) an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament and improves the Buckeyes’ seeding. Michigan (26-13-2) will also receive a tourney berth. ESPN2 will carry the NCAA selection show is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.