COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a 4-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth, Ohio State advanced to Saturday’s championship game in the third annual Ohio Hockey Classic in Nationwide Arena. It’s the third straight appearance in the title match for OSU, and the second consecutive time that the Buckeyes will meet their primary rivals, the Miami RedHawks, for Ohio bragging rights.
“For three years in a row, we’ve had a very good first game,” said head coach John Markell. “It’s the second game you kind of worry about.”
Four different Buckeyes registered goals and freshman goaltender Joseph Palmer made 19 saves as OSU outshot UMD 32-20.
“I didn’t think we played particularly hard. I think they out-competed us,” said Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin. “It’s just kind of the way things have gone for us. We’ve been in a rut and it just seems like everything’s not really going our way.”
The Buckeyes welcomed back junior forward Tom Fritsche, who sat out the first half of the season due to illness. Fritsche made a statement on his first shift back with a sweet feed that led to OSU’s first goal of the game.
“Having Fritsche back in their lineup gives them a little boost,” said Sandelin. “They played a very spirited game. I thought we fought the puck a lot and didn’t generate anything. They shut us down pretty good.”
Sean Collins gave OSU a 1-0 lead with his sixth of the season at 1:40 in the first. Tommy Goebel fed Fritsche, who took the puck down through the left circle and slid it across to Collins at the bottom of the right circle. In one fluid motion Collins, bumped by Duluth’s Matt Greer, spun around and backhanded the puck past UMD goaltender Josh Johnson for the early OSU lead.
Greer tied the game for UMD at 4:43, a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle that beat Palmer long and clean, but the Buckeyes regained the lead on their nation-leading ninth shorthanded goal of the season at 6:39. Matt McIlvane skated into the left circle, waited for Bulldog forward Travis Gawryletz to commit low, then shuffled the puck to Dominic Maiani, who crashed right to score on an essentially empty net with Johnson drawn left to defend against McIlvane.
The Buckeyes netted two more in the second to make it a 4-1. Less than a minute into the period, Mathieu Beaudoin picked up his own rebound for his sixth goal of the season, and Mathieu Picard scored from Zach Pelletier’s centering pass at 11:20, extending Picard’s goal-scoring streak to three games.
The Bulldogs were aggressive at the start of the third and outshot the Buckeyes 9-8 in the final 20 minutes, but the effort was never enough to mount a comeback.
“We talked about winning the period,” said Sandelin. “I thought we played a better period, but again, it’s still not enough. We haven’t really been a 60-minute team this year. I thought we gave them some easy goals.”
Markell was happy with the way in which his team responded to the midseason time off. ” I like the way our guys came back. They are focused. I think on a whole we played pretty good hockey there for 60 minutes.”
Markell was also pleased that the Buckeyes played a balanced game in support of Fritsche, a franchise player on any club. “I like the fact that we rolled four lines so that he wouldn’t get too winded. It was a game where all…six guys on the ice were pretty good, so that made him even more effective.”
On Saturday, Minnesota-Duluth (4-13-3, 2-10-2 WCHA) will face Bowling Green (4-14-1, 2-10-0 CCHA) in the OHC consolation game at 4:05 p.m., while the Buckeyes (6-9-4, 5-6-3 CCHA) will take on the RedHawks (15-5-1, 10-3-1 CCHA) at 8:05 p.m.
Miami and Ohio State ended the first half of the season with a home-and-home series, a 5-2 Miami win at Value City Arena in Columbus Dec. 8 and a 2-2 tie in Steve Cady Arena in Oxford the following night. The teams will play a second home-and-home series in January.
“It will be an Ohio final, which is great,” said Markell. “We had hoped that it would be that way.
“We just played them two weeks ago and we’re right back at them. We’re very familiar [with each other], and it creates that animosity — or, hopefully respect — that both teams are going to need for each other to play the game of hockey that it’s going to take to beat the other team.
“It’ll be a game of chess out there, and hopefully everybody comes to play and we can put on a good show for the fans.”