COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second year in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes faced the No. 2 team in the nation in their own holiday tournament, the Ohio Hockey Classic, and found themselves on the “losing” end of it, having to watch as their opponent this year, intrastate rival the Miami RedHawks hoist the hardware after “winning” the shootout following a hard-fought overtime tie game.
It was 1-1 at the end of 65 minutes, a game that saw momentum swings, exhilarating speed, outstanding goaltending, a crowd-pleasing shootout, and the typical love displayed by two teams that see each other as often as do Miami and Ohio State.
“I thought it was a good college hockey game tonight,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “Both teams found their legs after last night and got back on the right track of playing good hockey.”
“I thought it was a tie game,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “I thought the first period was pretty even, both sides, the second period they totally dominated, and we had the better of the third period. Tie game and the shootout. Obviously, we have to work on our breakaways.”
It was an unpleasant kind of dj vu for OSU, who lost last year’s inaugural OHC to No. 2 Colorado College, with a shootout determining the title following a 2-2 tie.
“It’s a heck of a way, two years in a row,” said Markell, “to lose to the second-ranked team, but you have to have a definitive answer. It’s exciting for the fans, but one of these times maybe we can score more goals than the opponent.”
The teams exchanged goals in the first period, each capitalizing on opponent mistakes. Buckeye Matt Waddell intercepted RedHawk Matt Davis’s clearing attempt from in front of the Miami net and fired it immediately back, beating Jeff Zatkoff long from the right point for the unassisted goal and the early OSU 1-0 lead at 6:08.
OSU netminder Dave Caruso returned Davis’s favor four minutes later, feeding Miami’s Nino Musitelli for the game-tying goal. Musitelli dumped the puck into the right corner and Caruso came out to play it, delivering the disk directly to Musitelli on the far side of the right circle. Musitelli shot and caught the inside of the far post, just as Caruso got back to the Buckeye net at 10:19.
“I went off and stopped it,” said Caruso, “and at the last second I heard, ‘Leave it, leave it, leave it,’ but I already had it off. I should have ringed it high and hard. I went in the wrong way to my net where I should have followed the puck. So it was a little bit of two things, where I didn’t rip it and didn’t follow the puck.”
Miami dominated the scoreless second period, outshooting the Buckeyes 18-5 in the stanza and giving Caruso the opportunity to show that Musitelli’s first-period goal was a fluke. Near the nine-minute mark, Miami captain and defenseman Andy Greene intercepted an OSU feed in the RedHawk zone and passed up to Brian Kaufman, in his first career game, who streaked in alone on Caruso. Kaufman took the shot from close range but Caruso was there, just getting his right foot out to deflect the puck out of harm’s way.
Late in the second, Caruso twice thwarted Geoff Smith, who had the game-winning goal in overtime against Rensselaer Thursday. With 1:33 to go, Smith pounced on a Buckeye turnover in front of the OSU net and fired futilely at Caruso, and with a minute to go the Buckeye goaltender made a lightning-quick kick save to keep Smith from scoring again.
“We had our forecheck going in the second period really well,” said Greene. “We know we just need to get in there and put some pressure on their D, and hopefully we can capitalize on their mistakes. Caruso played really well, as he always does against us. In those kinds of games, you can’t get frustrated; you just have to keep going.”
In the shootout, Greene scored first on Caruso and OSU’s Rod Pelley got by Zatkoff on his first attempt, but the three subsequent Buckeyes Mathieu Beaudoin, Sam Campbell, and Andrew Schembri missed, while Smith and Ryan Jones scored for Miami.
The Buckeyes will have to console themselves with an official tie against league-leading Miami, but the RedHawks happily take home a midseason title.
“For us, it’s a championship,” said Greene. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s a championship and whenever you win one it’s always a good feeling. It helps out the team. We came here to win it and that was our goal.”
Both the RedHawks (13-2-3, 10-1-1 CCHA) and the Buckeyes (10-6-3, 6-4-1 CCHA) return to league play next weekend. Miami hosts Northern Michigan Jan. 6-7 and OSU has a home-and-home series against Bowling Green the same dates.