COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a game that easily could have been considered quirky, except that when the Wolverines meet the Buckeyes, anything out of the ordinary is perfectly normal-and a Brandon Naurato goal with 1:08 left in regulation to give Michigan a 4-3 win was as logical a conclusion as any other.
After Kyle Hood and Andrew Schembri gave OSU a 2-0 lead that the Buckeyes thought they would take into the first intermission, Wolverine Tim Miller scored at the buzzer to pull Michigan within one.
Then Jack Johnson netted his 15th of the season just 29 seconds into the middle stanza to make it 2-2. Jason DeSantis ricocheted the puck off of both uprights three minutes later to again give the Bucks the lead, but T.J. Hensick capitalized on a pure goal-scorer’s moment to tie the game up again at 10:47 in the second.
So no one should have been surprised when Naurato found the net at 18:52 to finally give the Wolverines their only lead of the night.
Given that the teams were 3-3-2 in the eight meetings preceding tonight’s contest, Michigan head coach Red Berenson took the nature of the game in stride.
“The last-second goal was a break for us. The last-minute goal was a break for us. It was a good play, but both teams were generating isolated chances-you saw Billy Sauer make a couple of close saves in the third period, as did [Joseph] Palmer.
“I don’t think there was much to choose between the teams. They had the home ice advantage and they utilized it for the most part. They had good momentum, they were getting a lot of shots through, but we were always in the game.”
Hood put the Bucks on the board at 17:05 in the first with his power-play goal from the point, and Schembri was the last Buckeye to touch the puck as it rolled slow-motion over the goal line during a scrambled play at 19:09 to give OSU that 2-0 lead.
But a fortuitous bounce with less than a second remaining in the first gave Miller an opportunity, and Michigan a goal.
“The first goal they got deflected right on the guy’s stick,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “It had eyes. That’s hockey and there’s nothing we can do about it — at an opportune time when we thought we had a little momentum going into the break.”
Johnson proved that the momentum was Michigan’s at the start of the second, when he scored on a breakaway the first shift into the period, tying the game at two.
DeSantis pulled a little back for the Buckeyes with his quirky goal from near the blue line, but Hensick’s marker at 10:47 was a beauty, a little move on the breakaway that beat OSU netminder Joseph Palmer low on the right.
“From the first period on, we had isolated quality chances that we didn’t score on, and that’s been kind of characteristic of our team; we haven’t scored on our best chances. But we had some hard-working goals tonight,” said Berenson. “We got a big goal from T.J. Hensick, but outside of that they were hard-working goals. Jack Johnson jumped in the slot for his goal, but the other goals were just blue-collar goals. We haven’t been getting those.”
In the third period, both goaltenders stymied the opposition from point-blank range. Naurato had his first opportunity with just over six minutes left in regulation, with the puck on his tape and a moment to spare in front of Palmer, who took away the angle and poked the puck away, and Sauer stopped Kenny Bernard cold with 4:14 left, after Bernard stole the puck in the Wolverine zone.
Nautaro’s game-winner came on a feed from Miller from behind the Buckeye net as Nautaro crashed in full speed.
“It’s a 60-minute game, and we didn’t come to play all 60 minutes,” said Markell. “That was indicative in the last goal, where we had complete control of the puck, could’ve got it out, but the guy stepped down inside our man, our weak-side guy. You can’t do that. You can’t take your eye off the puck at any time with this hockey team.”
The loss cost the Buckeyes more than just points. OSU’s leading scorer, Tommy Goebel (11-14–25), was injured away from the play early in the second period and did not return to the game. Markell said that Goebel will definitely be out for Saturday’s rematch, but that the shortened bench “was not why we lost the game.”
“They capitalized on a couple of chances at the right time. The first goal they got deflected right on the guy’s stick. It had eyes. That’s hockey and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The Wolverines were 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Buckeyes were 1-for-4. Billy Sauer had 35 saves in his 22nd win of the season. Palmer made 29 stops in the loss.
Michigan (23-11-1, 18-8-1 CCHA) and Ohio State (13-15-5, 11-12-4 CCHA) face off at 8:05 p.m. Saturday for their final game of the regular season. Berenson said that the Wolverines know what they’re up against during OSU’s “senior night.”
“These teams are both capable of beating each other. I like Ohio State. They did some good things tonight and they’re going to be disappointed with the loss. They’re going to think that they could’ve won the game, and we’re humble enough to understand that we could’ve lost the game.”
The game will be the final in the Schottenstein Center for this year’s Buckeye senior class. When OSU hosts a first-round CCHA playoff series next weekend, they’ll do so in the OSU Ice Arena because of a state high school wrestling tournament slated at the Schott.
“It’ll be a good game tomorrow,” said Markell. “The seniors will be motivated. It’ll be about them. They’re going to compete hard.”