COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes may not be hosting the first round of the CCHA playoffs in the Schottenstein Center, but a 6-2 win over Northern Michigan certainly made the OSU Ice Arena feel like home.
“What do you think about our new rink?” junior forward Tommy Goebel asked the press post-game. “We’re 1-0 in it.”
Goebel had a goal, as did five other Buckeyes, with senior captain defenseman Sean Collins leading all OSU players in scoring with a tally and two assists. Joseph Palmer made 22 saves in the win as the Bucks outshot the Wildcats 43-24.
“We played a good game,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “I thought we made some good adjustments. I thought our guys were a little nervous in the first period. I thought Joe made some good saves in the first period and we hung together and learned a little bit more about this rink. It’s different practicing than it is playing in it.”
For the third time in four weeks, the win was costly to the Buckeyes; senior forward and leading scorer Andrew Schembri left the game in the first period after being kneed by Darin Olver. When NMU was last in town (Feb. 9), OSU lost forward Dominic Maiani to a knee injury, and in last Friday’s 4-3 loss to Michigan, Goebel suffered a concussion.
“I’m extremely disappointed in losing Andrew,” said Markell. “We’re losing players to cheap hits, and they’re done for the year and none of the other guys are back in the game. There’s something wrong, and I’m upset about it.”
Schembri’s status is uncertain, and the call on Olver also caused some controversy in the game. Referee Kevin Hall’s initial call at 12:29 in the first period was a five-minute major for kneeing plus a game misconduct, but the misconduct had to be repealed because no such option exists according to NCAA official rules. For a kneeing, players may receive a minor penalty, a major penalty, or a major penalty with a game disqualification. Players may not receive 10-minute misconducts or game misconducts for kneeing.
The end result was that Olver missed 2:31 more of what he should have in the first period. NMU head coach Walt Kyle was unavailable for comment after the game.
Collins opened the scoring for the Buckeyes at 15:45 in the first on that penalty to Olver when he picked up the rebound of Mathieu Beaudoin’s initial shot. Wildcat goaltender Bill Zaniboni blocked Beaudoin’s shot from near the crease, right of the net, but the puck bounced to the opposite side to Collins, who backhanded it himself for his ninth goal of the season.
“They came out hard…and outplayed us in the first period,” said Collins. “After we got that power-play goal, [we went] into the second period with momentum.”
OSU made it 3-0 before the eight-minute mark in the second, on John Dingle’s power-play tip-in of Tyson Strachan’s shot from the right point at 4:06, and Beaudoin’s 14th goal of the year at 7:36. Johann Kroll had the initial shot from the top of the right circle on Beaudoin’s goal, but the puck hit the far-side upright and lay motionless on the goal line; Beaudoin poked it in before Zaniboni could find the disk.
That third tally brought out Brian Stewart in net for the Wildcats and seemed to settle NMU for the remainder of the period. At 16:43, Matt Maunu scored for the ‘Cats just five seconds after the Buckeyes killed a full two minutes of two-man NMU advantage. It was 3-1 after two.
Tom Fritsche made it 4-1 at 6:27 with his pretty solo effort, stealing the puck in front of Stewart and forcing his way through traffic to put it midway up, glove side. Goebel’s 12th goal of the season at 10:30 made it 5-1, and although Mike Santorelli scored with a great second effort at 18:19 to make it 5-2, Jason DeSantis bumped the lead back to four with less than a minute left in regulation with an even-strength slapshot.
OSU finished 2-for-5 on the power play to NMU’s 0-for-4. Zaniboni had 19 saves and took the loss; Stewart stopped 18 in relief.
In spite of the lopsided score, Markell said that the Buckeyes have much room for improvement for Saturday’s game.
“We had guys making cross-ice passes right in the slot and you can’t do that. They’re going to turn them into a goal.
“One thing about Northern Michigan is that they work hard every game. We will expect that same effort, if not more. You think that’s easy to end guys’ careers, their college careers, but it’s not. It’s going to take that effort plus tomorrow night, and that’s what I told these guys.”
The game was played in the OSU Ice Arena because the Schottenstein Center, OSU’s home ice, was booked for a state-wide high school wrestling tournament. Every other ice surface with any fan capacity in Columbus was also unavailable, leaving the OSU Ice Rink — the men’s home before the move to the Schott in 1999, and the current home of the OSU women’s team — the best possible venue.
The Schott holds over 17,000 for hockey. The OSU Ice Arena is listed variously with a capacity of between 1,000 and 1,200, but the arena was packed tonight, and the official attendance was 779.
Both Goebel and Collins said that the atmosphere in the small barn was good, and Markell took the change in venue in stride.
“You know what? It’s home,” said Markell. “We’re on our campus. That’s what we earned. It just happens to be a block and a half away. It was certainly loud in there. The people who are here are seasoned fans, and hopefully appreciate our effort.”
For the record, the win was the 15th in a row for the men in the Ice Arena. OSU was undefeated in the little rink in 1998, the last full calendar year in which they played here. Northern Michigan hasn’t won a game in Columbus since 1981, in this building.
The Wildcats (13-22-2) and Buckeyes (15-15-5) meet again for the second game of this best-of-three playoff series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, at the OSU Ice Arena.