COLUMBUS, Ohio — After overcoming one-goal deficits twice, the Ohio State Buckeyes turned in a four power-play goal performance to beat the Alaska Nanooks, 6-2, in Value City Arena.
Kyle Hood and Dominic Maiani led OSU in scoring with a goal and two assists, Tom Fritsche and Matt McIlvane each had a goal and a helper, and 10 different Buckeyes tallied points in the contest. Both head coaches agreed that special teams were the deciding factor in the contest.
“I thought playing five-on-five that Alaska had the better of us,” said OSU’s John Markell. “I thought our specialty teams made the difference tonight. They got a couple power-play goals, but we killed off some key ones there at the end and our power play worked. We gave up a five-on-three goal, and that was a five-on-three goal — powered up, top shelf, there was no chance.”
UA head coach Tavis MacMillan said that he knew coming in that the Nanooks would live or die by special teams and goaltending. “Their special teams were better, and their goaltending was better. Our goaltending wasn’t up to par. It hasn’t been for a while now. At the start of the year, it was a real comfort for me and right now it’s a major concern.”
The loss was the fourth in a row for Alaska, including two losses to intrastate rival Alaska-Anchorage. Nanook Chad Johnson made 24 saves on the 29 shots he faced, a performance that led MacMillan to what he called a quick decision about who will start for UA between the pipes in Sunday’s rematch.
“I’m not even going to watch video,” said MacMillan. “That’s an easy one for me tonight. I told … both Wylie and Chad that I’m going to run with the hot guy. Having said that, now I can say, yeah, that’s obviously — we’ve got to be better. Both of them have played well, but not great.”
Buckeye freshman Joseph Palmer stopped 31 of 33 shots in his third consecutive win. “He’s maturing,” said Markell. “You always hope that the goaltender is going to mature. He knows that he’s our guy.”
The Nanooks and Buckeyes gave fans a highly entertaining game, exchanging goals through two periods, using every square inch of the ice in back-and-forth exchanges, and even providing a late-game lovefest to cap the evening.
Kyle Greentree opened the scoring for UA at 4:09 in the first with his 16th goal on the season, a five-on-three power-play tally from the top of the slot. Tyson Strachan answered for the Buckeyes with a man-advantage goal of his own, another top-slot bullet, at 10:53 to make it 1-1 after one.
The teams traded goals early in the second, 27 seconds apart, with UA’s Jeff Lee netting the second and final Alaska goal of the night, on the power play, at 2:45. Kyle Hood scored at 3:12 for the Buckeyes to tie it 2-2, his second goal of the season, but the game turned on Fritsche’s goal at 16:37, the game-winner that he scored from the goal line hitting the sliver of space between Johnson’s left arm and the right upright.
“That third goal killed us,” said MacMillan. “We’re fragile right now. Our margin of error is so small. They score from the goal line like that — our kids right now, as much as they tried to put that behind them and battle back, that was tough. You can’t give up goals like that.”
Buckeyes McIlvane, Domenic Maiani, and Matt Waddell added goals in the third period; Waddell’s was an empty-net power-play marker.
The frustration got to the Nanooks late in the lively contest. When Fritsche chased down a puck in the UA end with the Nanook cage empty at the 18:00 mark, he was upended in the left corner by an Alaska player, Buckeye Zach Pelletier charged the offending Nanook, and an old-fashioned melee erupted. In all, 10 penalties were assessed — including a two-minute roughing call earned by Fritsche, who bounced up and joined the fray. Pelletier and Greentree each earned 10-minute misconducts.
The game was just Fritsche’s third of the season, and he’s tallied points in each of those contests. Ohio State is also 3-0 in that stretch. Fritsche missed the first half of the year with an intestinal illness, and his return, said Markell, is a boon for the Buckeyes in more ways than one.
“Any time you’ve got a guy with hockey sense and spirit, that runs through your hockey team. Tommy Goebel and he have played together before in minor hockey, and Dom [Maiani] … they wanted to play together and they’re excited about. They’re growing each game.
“Very fortunate right now to have a day off so that he can regain his strength, and then we have two weeks off before the next game, so everything should be falling in place so that he can regain his energy before we push.”
The Nanooks (7-8-4, 5-5-3 CCHA) and Buckeyes (8-9-4, 6-6-3 CCHA) meet again Sunday at 3:05 p.m. for their last game of the regular season. The day off, because of OSU women’s basketball at the Schott, is one that MacMillan would rather skip.
“I want to play tomorrow. You win, you want a day off. You lose, you want to play the next day. At the same time, it will give us some more time to go over some video and have a practice.”
The win for Ohio State was the program’s 700th.