OXFORD, Ohio — In a gritty, penalty-filled contest, the Buckeyes and RedHawks duked it out through two tight periods before Ohio State turned up the heat midway through the third, forcing JB Bittner’s game-winning goal at 12:38 in this 3-1 decision.
Buckeye Rod Pelley and RedHawk Matt Christie exchanged power-play goals in the first, and Miami’s Brandon Crawford-West made 39 saves in the game. Sean Collins added the empty-netter for the Bucks with four seconds to go.
Each team had plenty of opportunities on the power play, with OSU converting 1-of-9 and Miami 1-of-10, and each team had five-on-three chances as well, including one Ohio State’s 1:28 of two-man advantage midway through the second, on which they could not score.
Most of the infractions — including the game-long lovefest between Buckeye Tyson Strachan and RedHawk Ryan Jones — were committed in the first two stanzas, something OSU head coach John Markell attributed to each team coming off a bye week.
“I want to think a few of those were due to rustiness,” said Markell. “Our guys persevered and did a good job and we did a better job in the third period of staying out of the box.”
One key to OSU’s win, according to Markell, was “getting through” the second period. From the 1:21 mark in the second through 9:46, OSU was in the penalty box and many key special teams players logged extra ice time. “[Y]ou saw what it was doing to us on the power play. [Matt] Beaudoin and Bittner and those guys were just plain tired. You need five guys functioning.
“It affected us, so we’ve got to do a better job tomorrow night working our power play. I thought we did the right things for the moment.”
Pelley’s goal to make it 1-0 at 9:09 in the first came less than a minute after RedHawk captain Andy Greene went to the box for boarding. Dominic Maiani won the faceoff for the Buckeyes in the right RedHawk circle and passed to Dan Knapp near the net; Knapp passed out to Pelley at the point, and the OSU junior registered his 13th power-play tally of the season with a rocket that beat Crawford-West high, dislodging the goalie’s water bottle.
Christie answered at 15:32, on as pretty a power play as you’ll see. It was Todd Grant who started the play from the left point, passing across the slot to Chris Michael at the right post. Michael immediately fed Christie on the other side of the crease, and OSU goaltender Dave Caruso — drawn right to defend against Michael — had no chance to recover and block Christie’s game-tying goal.
But after the Buckeyes survived the second — outshooting the RedHawks 30-17 by the end of that period, in spite of spending nearly half of it down at least one man — they settled down and redoubled their efforts.
The pressure paid off, and at 12:38 and with very busy traffic in front of the Miami net, Bittner knocked in a loose puck over a sprawled Crawford-West, who had little chance on the shot.
The loss leaves Miami (15-16-4, 11-13-3 CCHA) in a three-way tie with Alaska-Fairbanks and Michigan State. The Nanooks, playing in nonconference action this weekend, can finish no higher than seventh in the final season standings, but the Spartans, who beat the Fighting Irish tonight, own the tiebreaker against the RedHawks.
Whether Miami travels or stays home for the first round of the playoffs will be determined tomorrow night by the outcome of the rematch between the RedHawks and Buckeyes as well as the game between Notre Dame and MSU.
“We’re a competitive team,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “We’ve had some things happen to our team this year that were out of our control. We’re a young team that plays hard every night and we’ve got good kids, and this is not the end of us right now.
“We played hard tonight and it could have gone either way.
“We’ve been playing good hockey the last month and a half, and tonight was no exception. We had some opportunities, had a few five-on-threes we had to kill … and Caruso made some big saves. Any time you get some of the chances we had in the third, you’ve got to bury some of those, so you have to give Caruso a lot of credit.”
Caruso finished the night with 23 saves and his 22nd win of the season.
Ohio State (24-8-3, 21-5-1 CCHA) finishes the season second in the CCHA regardless of tomorrow’s score because the first-place Michigan Wolverines clinched with their win over Bowling Green tonight.
Markell seemed sad yet philosophical about the fate of his team. “I think we did our best in each game. We’ve done a pretty good job. We’re going through a learning process. When you look back at the games against Western Michigan that we lost, they outplayed us. In Nebraska, we didn’t play very well. When you don’t grow from those losses, you’ve got a problem, but we grew from those losses.”
The Buckeyes will face Ferris State next week in Columbus in the opening round of CCHA play. The Bulldogs lost to the Western Michigan Broncos tonight, putting FSU in 11th place in the final conference standings.
The RedHawks and Buckeyes face off again Saturday night in Columbus’s Value City Arena. The puck drops at 8:05 p.m.