COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three Buckeye power-play goals — two by Matt Beaudoin — and a pair of negated Bronco tallies were enough to tip the scales in Ohio State’s favor for a 4-3 win over visiting Western Michigan.
“Both teams played hard,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “We came in here expecting to win. What I feel is [that] we ran out of time. They capitalized on their opportunities and scored some power-play goals, as did we, but it’s a one-goal game and a tough place to play.”
The Broncos dominated the first 18 minutes of play, stymieing the Buckeye offense by taking away OSU’s passing lanes and tying up play along the boards and penetrating deep into the Buckeye zone. The score was 3-2 in favor of Ohio State after one, but only because two goals were waved off — one for a high stick, one for goaltender interference — and because the Buckeyes got their rhythm back when Dave Barton scored his first of the season to tie the game 2-2 at 18:08.
“I don’t think we were prepared to play right off the bat and they took it to us,” said OSU team captain JB Bittner. “Our power play came through for us. They had a couple of goals called and they were good calls, but the score definitely could have been the other way around. We were lucky to get out of the first with the lead.
“I think we were prepared as far as Xs and Os and what they were going to do, but we weren’t mentally prepared. I just don’t think we were ready for their team speed, the way their forwards move the puck and I don’t think we respected that enough.”
From the drop of the puck, the Broncos buzzed the Buckeyes in the OSU zone, leading to the first negated goal at 2:28, and Vince Bellissimo’s four-on-four marker to give WMU a 1-0 lead at 3:16.
It was Brian Bicek who interfered and earned two minutes for doing so with Buckeye Nate Guenin already in the box, and the extra ice favored the Broncos, who made quick work of the opportunity. Crashing the Buckeye net, Pat Dwyer shot from midway out between the circles, and OSU goaltender Dave Caruso made the initial save but came out of the crease to do so, giving Bellissimo an open net for his 10th goal of the season.
Andrew Schembri answered on the Buckeye power play at 6:36, popping in the rebound of Kyle Hood’s attempt and tying the score 1-1.
At 13:20, Bellissimo was denied his second goal of the game when referee Stephen McInchak ruled that he redirected a shot from the point with a high stick, but less than two minutes later Dwyer gave the Broncos their second lead of the game, with a little help from Hood.
The Buckeye knocked Jeff Pierce into Caruso and took the goalie out of the play, giving the Broncos another undefended net on which to score. Dwyer took advantage of the opportunity by scooping the puck around the three-man pileup from the left of the crease.
But from Dwyer’s goal on, the Buckeyes seemed to adjust and generate scoring chances.
“I think the positive was that we came back after having a sluggish first period and then we scored a couple of timely goals,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “I thought a guy like young Dave Barton coming in had a good game, scored a critical goal for us, obviously got us going.”
Barton’s goal was the only even-strength Buckeye goal of the game, a beautiful one-timer from left of the crease that beat Bellissimo five-hole and completed a two-on-one break with Tom Fritsche, who carried the puck into the zone on the right wing at 18:08 to make it a 2-2 game.
“I can’t say enough about Fritsche,” said Barton. “He works so hard and is just very, very smart with the puck. I was just on the receiving end.”
Beaudoin’s first goal of the night just 1:07 later, the result of hard work and good cycling by OSU on the power gave, the Buckeyes a 3-2 edge after one.
Bellissimo was outstanding in the scoreless second period, when the Buckeyes could have broken open the game. OSU redoubled its collective effort in the middle stanza, outshooting WMU 12-6 and creating grade-A chances, but Bellissimo was up to the task, especially late in the period, when he denied Dan Knapp from close in and stoned Beaudoin on a breakaway.
The Broncos began the third period as they began the game and were rewarded with Labatte’s tying goal at 3:20, a rebound of Jason Moul’s shot, but the Buckeyes responded with Beaudoin’s second power-play goal at 5:12, a slapshot from the bottom of the left circle. Western pressured hard in the third but the Buckeyes shut them down through the final 15 minutes, including the lone Bronco power play midway through the period.
“I think you can go around our locker room — guys played well,” said Culhane. “We’ve played a tough schedule in the month of January with a series against Michigan, Michigan State, a week off, and now the Buckeyes, but the moral victory doesn’t go very far. I expect to win, and I expect the kids next door to feel the same way too.”
Markell said that it was more than just a breakdown in defense that led to the near-miss first period.
“I thought at points it was a little rough, but it wasn’t just them. We play a five-man unit out there and we weren’t getting to loose pucks, we were losing the 50-50 battles, and in the second period that’s where we changed. Our defense was just a part of it. Our forwards weren’t working hard enough along the boards when the puck was there to get the pucks out and we paid the price.”
“They’re the best forwards in our league, them and Michigan,” said Bittner. “I think it was a test for our defensive core, and we got the win [because] they got stronger as the game went on.”
OSU went 3-for-5 on the power play, and in their last three games the Buckeyes have converted on the power play at a rate of 44.4 percent. In those three games, Beaudoin has netted four man-advantage goals. “We just move the puck and shoot,” said Beaudoin. “Since Christmas, I don’t know what’s going on, but we seem to be in good spots for the rebound. It’s clicking right now.”
WMU was 0-for-4 on the power play. Bellissimo finished the night with 29 saves in the loss, Caruso with 29 in the win.
A skirmish at the game buzzer led to four two-minute minors and four 10-minute misconducts. Those involved were Buckeyes Nate Guenin and Matt Waddell, and Broncos Vince Bellissimo and Pat Dwyer. The eruption came after a period in which two penalties were called and action around the boards was rough.
The Broncos and Buckeyes meet for their fourth and final regular-season game Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Value City Arena.