COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sometimes, an opponent’s worth isn’t measured by wins and losses so much as personal history. Friday, when No. 4 Miami beat unranked Ohio State 5-2, the RedHawks felt like it was a win they had to earn.
“Any time you play four times a year — sometimes five, sometimes six — Ohio State and the history that they’ve had [with] five years in a row at the NCAA, they’re the team to beat for us.”
So said last year’s Spencer Penrose winner, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, whose first-place RedHawks were six points ahead of the Buckeyes going into this contest.
Even though the ‘Hawks beat the Bucks three of four games last season, including the Valentine’s Day game that clinched the regular-season championship for Miami, this is not a series the RedHawks take lightly.
“Over the last seven-and-a-half years that I’ve been here, the rivalry has gotten pretty good,” said Blasi. “The coaching staff know each other pretty well and have a lot of respect for each other. You know the week of preparation is going to be intense.
“I know it wasn’t a one-goal game, but it sure felt like it.”
Miami freshman Jarod Palmer led the RedHawks in scoring with two goals and an assist, and junior goaltender Charlie Effinger made 25 saves in his first game since Nov. 10. Effinger was out with mononucleosis.
Blasi said that the Miami coaches don’t think of Palmer as a freshman.
“He’s been playing like that from Day One. First game against Denver, he was unbelievable. He’s one of those older freshmen that just understands the game. He’s a gamer. He plays hard. There are very times when he doesn’t come out of a scrum with the puck. He’s just one of those guys … there’s a magnet on his stick or something.”
As for Effinger’s performance in his return, that’s just typical of the commitment of Division I athletes, said Blasi.
“To Effie’s credit — and Effie’s just one example — but these kids, these Division I hockey players — whether it’s Ohio State, or Miami, or whoever — they work so hard during the week, they work so hard in the summer, when things like this happen, you can see them bounce back.”
After a scoreless first period, the RedHawks and the Buckeyes exchanged a pair of goals within the first two minutes of the second, and Palmer’s first of the night gave Miami a 2-1 lead after the middle stanza.
Alec Martinez scored on the Miami power play at 1:33 in the second, sending the puck through traffic from near the blue line and beating OSU goaltender Joseph Palmer clean for the 1-0 lead. Mathieu Piccard answered for the Buckeyes less than a minute later on a two-on-two the other way.
Miami’s Palmer made it 2-1 at 11:23, picking up Justin Mercier’s rebound when it bounced out of Joseph Palmer’s glove.
Marty Guerin gave Miami a two-goal lead at 1:03 in the third when he plucked Jarod Palmer’s centering pass out of mid-air and scored while being driven into the net by a Buckeye defender.
At 6:38 in the third, Palmer notched his second of the night and seventh of the season when he capitalized on Guerin’s initial shot, giving the RedHawks a 4-1 lead. That goal was the end for OSU’s Joseph Palmer, who was replaced in net by Nick Filion.
The goalie switch was “just a momentum swing,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “Nick went in there and he’s ready to go.”
The strategy worked — briefly — as the Buckeyes scored less than a minute later to cut the Miami lead to two again on a beautiful, unassisted, top-shelf effort by Tommy Goebels, but that was all the offense OSU would muster. Miami captain Ryan Jones got the empty-netter with three seconds left.
Markell said that the Buckeyes were showing the after-effects of final exams at Ohio State. “Do I think we were a good skating team tonight? No. I think we showed the effects of not having a practice all week where the guys were totally there. We were in exams. It shows what it takes out of you to get it done right in the classroom. I don’t think we were as crisp in our skating and our puck handling and things like that.”
Effinger finished the night with 25 saves and held the Buckeyes scoreless in five power-play chances. Joseph Palmer finished with 18 saves in the loss, while Filion saved the only shot he saw. Miami was 1-for-7 with the man advantage.
OSU (5-9-3, 5-6-2 CCHA) travels to Oxford Saturday to face Miami (14-5-0, 10-3-0) again. Both coaches said that they saw room for improvement for the rematch.
“We have to be a little bit better, a little bit smarter against a team like that,” said Markell. “They’re ranked fourth in the nation for a reason, and we saw some of the reasons why tonight. Now we’re going to have to take it on the road and try to do a better job of competing against what they do well.”
Said Blasi, “For us it’s a daily grind to improve. We’ve still got to take care of the puck. There’s things on our forecheck that we can still work on, our D-zone that — by no means have we played a perfect game. We’ll continue to watch tape and teach and try to make sure our guys are improving every day. That’s our goal. The day we stop improving is the day that we’ll play that perfect game, and hopefully it’s in March.”
Jeff Zatkoff will likely start for the RedHawks, said Blasi, while the Buckeyes will review tape and make a decision regarding their starter before the game, said Markell.
The puck drops at 8:05 p.m. in Steve Cady Arena for the second game.