DETROIT — With a 4-1 win over Michigan State in CCHA semifinal action, the Ohio State Buckeyes advanced to Saturday’s championship game against Michigan, setting up a rematch of last year’s title contest.
The Buckeyes beat the Spartans with the same tools they’ve used all season — a fast and young offense, solid goaltending, and a lethal power play.
Sophomores Andrew Schembri and Sean Collins scored the first two OSU goals, and freshmen Jason DeSantis and Tom Fritsche had the last two. Dave Caruso made 24 saves, and the Buckeyes went 2-for-5 on the power play while holding the Spartans scoreless on six chances with the man advantage.
“I thought … we were going to be a little bit rusty,” said OSU head coach John Markell, whose second-seeded Buckeyes had a bye Friday night. “Dave Caruso was there and he made some big saves … kind of calmed us down a little bit. I thought our guys did well, played within our systems, and played well without the puck.”
Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said that the third Buckeye goal, scored by DeSantis at 7:35 in the third, was the point at which the game was put out of reach for the Spartans.
“If they get a two-goal lead, they’re really, really tough. Even at 2-1, I really thought … that still good things could happen. [MSU goaltender] Dom [Vicari] had a bad break on the third goal when it hit his shoulder and he couldn’t find it.
“If it stays 2-1 for long stretches, we’ve shown an ability to come back. We’ve got guys that can score big goals and I still liked our chances very much until the third goal went in.”
The Buckeyes came out flying from the get-go, registering three shots on goal in the first 1:20 of the game, and Schembri’s power-play goal at 8:25 made it 1-0. Cycling low, Dan Knapp sent the puck from the right circle to Kenny Bernard left; Bernard one-touched it back across the slot to Schembri, who backhanded it in from right of the crease.
“That was a gift,” said Schembri. “Kenny threw it over to me and I had an open net.”
Ash Goldie evened it up for MSU at 17:44 in the first on a breakaway with Colton Fretter. Fretter blew by Collins on the left wing and Caruso committed himself to Fretter’s potential shot far outside the Buckeye net; Fretter shuffled over to Goldie, who hit the empty right side of the net to make it 1-1 after the first.
But OSU scored one unanswered in the second and two in the third, starting with Collins’ goal at 7:38 in the middle stanza.
On a feed from Nate Guenin at the top of the right circle, Collins one-timed it past a screened Vicari from near the blue line high above the left point to make it 2-1 after two.
At 7:35 in the third, DeSantis got the puck in a scramble in front of the MSU net, near the left post, and tucked it in between Vicari and the pipe, over the Spartan goaltender’s shoulder, and Fritsche scored while crashing the net at 15:59.
The Spartans, who beat Nebraska-Omaha 5-0 in a Thursday quarterfinal, were running out of fuel in the third, and Collins — who played in last year’s Super Six, a tournament that took the Buckeyes three games to win — said that sitting out yesterday’s action gave Ohio State an edge.
“I didn’t really notice a time in the game where they started to wear down, but we fought all season to make sure that we got into a position to make sure that we didn’t have to play the three games this year with a bye in the semis. I definitely think that helps us.”
The Buckeyes outshot the Spartans 39-25 overall, and 28-15 through the first 20 minutes. Caruso was challenged in net more than once, and while Comley thought the turning point in the game was OSU’s third goal, he conceded that the OSU penalty kill was another significant factor in the Buckeyes’ win.
When Caruso made a seemingly impossible kick-save on Tommy Goebel’s point-blank power-play shot at 15:12 in the first period, the Spartans knew they were in for a long night on the power play.
“They pressure well and they don’t give you a lot,” said Comley. “It’s hard to get pucks through. You will get some chances, but you’ll have a tough time getting rebounds because they protect the post very well and don’t give up an awful lot.”
Vicari finished the night with 35 saves.
No. 2 seed Ohio State (27-9-4) will meet No. 1 seed Michigan (29-7-3) at 7:35 p.m. Saturday for the CCHA championship. Markell said that he doubts the Wolverines will be out for revenge, and that the Buckeyes know how hard they’ll have to play to compete.
“I was pretty impressed with that win that Michigan put on with Alaska-Fairbanks. Alaska-Fairbanks is a good-skating, big, physical hockey club that came to play, and Michigan just kept it up and kept it up. We’re going to have to have an A-game, plus.
“We’re going to prepare ourselves to play a good, good hockey team, try to do our best out there, try to make adjustments if we have to, try to play our game, worry about ourselves.”