COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Derek Whitmore sent home a rebound of John Mazzei’s initial shot at 18:16 in the third period to make the score 3-2 in Bowling Green’s favor, he did more than give the Falcons their first lead of the night. With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Whitmore’s goal all but assured BGSU head coach Scott Paluch his first career victory over Ohio State.
Said Paluch, “I’ll tell you what. It feels really darn good.”
The win was the first for Bowling Green in the last 12 tries against OSU, and evens the season series at 1-1-1, setting the stage for Saturday’s dramatic rubber match in the BGSU Ice Arena.
The Falcons, who shutout No. 12 Colgate Tuesday night after capturing the UConn Hockey Classic last week in Storrs, Conn., have now won five in a row.
“We’ve got a little bit of a streak going here, and we needed to carry that over in the league,” said Paluch. “We had the run mostly in non-conference games, and we needed tobuild on what we accomplished in those non-league games.
“There’s a lot of CCHA action left here, and those teams are so tight. Any time you can come into a road building, but for us, more specifically, to come into this building and take some points at this juncture of the year, it’s a really good feeling for us, but it’s a phenomenal lift for us to finally get the two points in this building and keep our streak going.”
Alex Foster led the Falcon scoring with a goal and an assist. Jon Horrell had 38 saves in the contest as the Buckeyes once again out-shot their opponent, this time 40-21.
“They out-competed us tonight, out-hit us,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “Obviously, when you put 40 shots on net, you have to get more than two goals. This is getting frustrating right now.”
The loss for OSU comes after a 1-1 overtime tie to No. 2 Miami in the title game of last week’s Ohio Hockey Classic in Columbus. Miami won that championship by way of a shootout, but the Buckeyes, who were 8-1-2 in the 11 games leading into tonight’s contest after weathering an early five-game slump, thought they were playing well heading into the second half of the season.
“You sleepwalk through two periods, you can’t expect to win a game,” said Buckeye captain Nate Guenin. “We didn’t see it coming. We thought we had a good week in practice. It’s just amazing when guys just don’t play, just don’t show up.
“I don’t get it. I’m an athlete. I thought we figured this out in the first half, and now we’re back to square one again.”
The Buckeyes and Falcons exchanged quirky goals in the first period tonight, with OSU scoring first. Shorthanded, Matt Waddell sent the puck from near the blue line against the boards above the left circle toward Horrell, who came out to play what looked like a routine fly ball, but somehow Horrell underestimated the shot and the puck bounced in off his extended glove at 8:26.
“It wasn’t the greatest,” said Horrell. “We’ll leave that as I lost it in the stands.”
Foster’s goal to tie the game at 10:57 came off a fluky bounce from behind the Buckeye net, nine seconds into a Falcon power play. Foster and OSU’s Matt McIlvane faced off at the dot to the left of the Buckeye net with McIlvane winning and dishing back to Waddell in the corner. Waddell banked the puck off the boards behind net but hit a dead spot; the puck squibbed out to just past the OSU crease, where Foster forced it between Buckeye goalie Dave Caruso’s legs to make it 1-1.
“It was important for us because it didn’t look like we were generating much to that point, and a little bit of puck luck like that you know, the game of hockey is interesting sometimes,” said Paluch. “Early in the year, I’m not quite sure that puck would have been laying there for us like it was, and it just happened to be Alex Foster there to knock it in. We’ll certainly take that. We’re not giving it back.”
The game was 2-2 after two when the teams again exchanged goals, with OSU again scoring first. At 9:12 in the second, Sam Campbell picked up the rebound Mathieu Beaudoin’s shot, and nine minutes later, the Falcons tied it again when Ryan Barnett sent Foster’s feed past Caruso five-hole from the lower left circle.
On the game-winning goal, Caruso made an excellent stop on Mazzei, who was crashing the net left with Whitmore right, but Caruso got no help from two OSU defenders who misread the play, and he had no chance when Whitmore found the puck on his stick.
“We put ourselves in position where we make one mistake, and the puck’s in your net, and you lose the hockey game,” said Markell. “We continually do it. This team has a propensity to disrespect what’s going on with the opponent. The opponent came in here playing well, beat the No. 11 team on Tuesday, and we thought we could play one period of hockey. They sat out their so-called best player, and they came together as a team and beat us.”
The Falcons were without Jonathan Matsumoto, who was suspended for tonight’s game for violating team rules.
“We’re going to get our lunch handed to us pretty quick here tomorrow,” said Markell. “We’re actually have to go on the road, tough place to play Bowling Green.”
“I give the coaches credit through everything,” said Guenin. “They’ve done everything they could. You’re an athlete, you get a scholarship, whatever, you’re a walk-on, when you put that jersey on, there should be effort there and right now there’s not.”
Both Markell and Guenin were clearly frustrated after the game, both frustrated by the Buckeyes’ lack of offense, and both at a loss to describe Ohio State’s inconsistency. Although the Buckeyes registered 40 shots, many were perimeter shots which Guenin likened to “half-court throws.”
From the other, happier bench, Foster credited Horrell for the team’s recent run. “He’s probably the biggest part of why we’re on a five-game winning streak. He’s phenomenal.”
Now the series goes back to Bowling Green, site of the last Falcon loss to the Buckeyes, a 7-2 decision Oct. 20, 2005.
“I don’t think we’re going to look at the score of that game any more than it is the opportunity to get another two points from a terrific hockey team,” said Paluch. “Now you win that first night, you have the opportunity for the sweep. That’s probably motivation enough.”
Ironically, OSU’s early-season slump began with a 2-2 home tie against the Falcons.
The puck drops Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in the BGSU Ice Arena.