MARQUETTE, Mich. — It took the Northern Michigan Wildcat hockey team two periods before they showed up to play on Saturday and the Ohio State Buckeyes caught them with their guard down.
As the tables turned on the Wildcats, the OSU team that took the ice appeared to be a far cry from the one that dropped the previous night’s meeting in Marquette. A very physical group of Buckeyes (2-4-0 overall, 2-2-0 CCHA) took to the rink firing and never looked back as they defeated Northern Michigan (4-3-1, 1-1-0), 4-2 to split the series.
“I don’t care if we had tied that game or lost it, we came to play tonight,” OSU head coach John Markell said. “We made some good adjustments and the kids put great individual efforts in. We earned that win.”
OSU manhandled the Wildcats and dictated the pace of play through two periods, after which they had out-shot NMU 32-7. In the contest’s first forty minutes, goaltender Bill Zaniboni faced more shots by far than during his previous three periods against the Buckeyes.
“We had a real entitled effort for two periods and our guys just thought that they were going to go out there and win a hockey game tonight,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “And I thought it was horrible.”
OSU forward Matt McIlvane scored shorthanded in the opening period and OSU defenseman Jason DeSantis also contributed a goal in the second. Entering the final intermission, the Buckeyes held a 2-0 lead over the reeling Wildcats.
“We didn’t play with any intensity and basically we just didn’t show up for the first couple of periods and it was obvious,” Wildcat forward Mike Santorelli said. “We just weren’t prepared to come out and battle with these guys.”
As the third period opened, OSU found themselves on a power play, thanks in part to an NMU penalty for too many men on the ice. Only 14 seconds into play, DeSantis fired a shot from the top of the circle and snuck his second goal of the night past NMU netminder Bill Zaniboni. The goal would prove to be the game-winner.
Down 3-0 and looking for a spark, Northern Michigan turned to a fresh face. Kyle made the decision to pull Bill Zaniboni in favor of his rookie backup, Brian Stewart. The ice time was the first of Stewart’s collegiate career.
A mere 50 seconds later, MNU forward Matt Siddall fired a shot that was deflected off the stick of OSU goalie, Joseph Palmer. Palmer was unable to handle the puck and Santorelli quickly poked the puck into the net to put the ‘Cats on the board.
Moments later, another Wildcat goal was disallowed due to a high-stick in the crease. Then, with less than nine minutes remaining, NMU defenseman Blake Cosgrove scored the second NMU goal of the evening. Kyle stood by the decision to switch goalies.
“We were down 3-0 and needed to change momentum,” he said. “We thought that maybe it would change momentum by putting a goaltender in there and it did.”
NMU was unable to complete the hectic comeback despite pulling Stewart to create a one-man advantage in the final minute.
McIlvane scored his second goal of the night on an empty net to finalize the score, 4-2.
The Wildcats will prepare this week to travel to Miami for a two-game series against the Redhawks on Friday and Saturday.
While the loss was not acceptable, consistency was not something that NMU should be worrying about, according to Kyle.
“We just won four in a row and that was consistency,” he said. “The sky is not falling, I can tell you that right now. Ohio State is a good team, they were hungry and they worked harder than we did for two periods. When we finally got it going it wasn’t enough and that’s a lesson that these guys are going to have to learn.”
The Buckeyes will prepare to face a streaking Notre Dame team next weekend and are happy with a split against the Wildcats.
“Coming into today individuals in the system just needed to work harder and make better decisions and they knew what was up,” Markell said. “The guys felt accountable for the four losses in a row and they wanted to make up for it. I think that a good road win like this can take us a long way.”