COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two ranked teams, two great netminders, two goals for each team. This game had everything a big-time Division I match should have — except a clear winner and two happy coaches.
After Colorado College won the inaugural Ohio Hockey Classic in a shootout having skated host Ohio State to a 2-2 overtime tie, CC head coach Scott Owens said, “I’m pleased but I’m not pleased because we had a lead late in the game and a chance to win it.”
The first words out of “losing” head coach John Markell, however, were, “I’m very happy with the games. I’m very happy about the whole tournament. I thought all four teams competed hard and made it a successful tournament.”
Well, when you’re No. 11 you’re probably a little happier about tying No. 2 than the other way around.
The 6,401 fans at Nationwide Arena saw the Tigers and Buckeyes play as though the NCAA title were on the line, with the underdog Buckeyes coming from behind twice to tie the game, pressing especially in the last 20 minutes when OSU outshot CC 15-7.
Brian Salcido scored in the first for the Tigers, Johann Kroll answered in the second for the Buckeyes, tournament MVP Brett Sterling gave CC the lead with 10 minutes to go in the third, but Sean Collins evened it up with less than five minutes left in regulation.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” said Owens. “It really could have gone either way. For us, it was a good game to play. It’s different from what we play on, 30 games on Olympic sheets throughout the course of the year. Plus, it was just a tough battle. There was some adversity and things we had to fight through.”
Those two issues — the “adversity,” a.k.a. the officiating, and the smaller ice surface — seemed to taint the experience for Owens and the Tigers. Well, that and the fact that they didn’t actually win the game.
“We were going into the end of the third period with that 2-1 lead and we don’t want to give that up, and it kind of put a shock to us,” said Sterling. “In the beginning, we had no doubt we’d come out, play well, and do well in this game. It hurts to not get the win, but the tie is a big tie against a good team like Ohio State.”
Both teams were tentative in the first period, registering a total of 11 shots between them, the vast majority belonging to Colorado College. In the final five minutes of the stanza, the Tiger pressure finally flustered the Buckeye defense, and their reward was a 1-0 lead after one. With 57 seconds left, Marty Sertich found the puck after the OSU defense blocked Sterling’s shot; Salcido took Sertich’s feed at the top of the slot and fired through traffic to beat a screened Dave Caruso over the glove and clean.
In the second period, the Tigers pressured the Buckeyes from nearly every angle but the OSU defense blocked the bulk of the shots, including most of those on three CC power plays. At the other end, most of OSU’s shots were perimeter but when the Buckeyes did create traffic in front of Matt Zaba, it paid off in the first tying goal at 12:22.
Kenny Bernard attempted a centering pass to Matt Beaudoin from the right circle, but the puck hit Sterling’s skate and ricocheted out to Johann Kroll, who took no time to bury the gift on Zaba’s glove side.
The Tigers took the lead again at 9:47, inspired by Zaba’s terrific point-blank save on a breaking J.B. Bittner. After the save, Lee Sweatt passed the rebound to Salcido, who sent the home run to Sterling, streaking up the middle through the neutral zone. As he reached the crease, Sterling moved the puck from forehand to back, tucking it in neatly behind Caruso to make it 2-1.
But the Buckeyes weren’t done.
“We knew we were still in the game,” said Markell. “We had a good feeling on the bench and we kept working and getting pucks deep on them. They’re like anybody else; if you put enough pressure on them, they’re vulnerable. There was no reason to give up.”
The game intensified and OSU scored just after CC’s defense broke up a three-on-two Buckeye rush. Dan Knapp — who had led the assault — found the puck along the boards behind the cage and passed along to Tom Fritsche, who centered it to Collins. Collins’ rocket sailed past Zaba high on the glove side to force overtime.
Both teams had their chances in the overtime, with the Tigers outshooting the Buckeyes 3-1, but CC prevailed in the shootout, with Sertich, James Brannigan, and Sterling scoring on Caruso. Knapp and Rod Pelley scored for the Buckeyes.
“I wanted to win that game really, really bad,” said Caruso. “I just didn’t stop them on the shootout, which I should have. I don’t think that was the five best breakaways I’ve taken in my entire life.”
Zaba had 25 saves in the contest, Caruso 22.
In spite of Owens’ concerns about the officiating, the penalties were fairly even, and none of the goals was scored on the power play. The Buckeyes were 0-for-8 on the power play while keeping the Tiger man advantage, fourth-best in the nation, to 0-for-6. Owens said that the smaller ice surface had something to do with that.
“I think they have bigger bodies and we were having a little bit of trouble finding some lanes to move the puck. They were pretty aggressive along the wall. I know Marty was getting a lot of physical play that he was having trouble with.”
Said CC captain Mark Stuart, “I think we learned from last night and we didn’t want to be in the box a lot tonight. We still took some penalties that we want to stay away from. We got the chance to be on the power play a lot tonight, too. We had our chances as well.”
Although they realized they’d passed some sort of test by tying the No. 2 team in the nation, the Buckeyes would rather have taken the tournament title.
“Of course, guys are upset right now because we didn’t win the game,” said Bitner, “but come February or March, I’m sure no one’s going to worry too much about losing that shootout.”
And while unhappy that they didn’t win the game outright, the Tigers were happy to claim the title.
“It’s nice to win the inaugural tournament,” said Owens. “We’d love to be back someday. It’s nice to get the win and have our name up there for the first Ohio Hockey Classic.”