COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Jarod Palmer weren’t psychic, Miami might be playing for third place rather than a title in this year’s Ohio Hockey Classic.
As the No. 1 RedHawks headed into overtime after Justin Mercier’s late third-period goal tied their game with the No. 16 St. Cloud State Huskies, 1-1, Palmer told head coach Enrico Blasi that he had a plan.
“Before we went out for overtime, Jarod said, ‘I’m going to shoot the puck, Coach,’” said Blasi. “He hadn’t been shooting it all night. Give him credit, because he was ready to shoot the puck.”
Palmer’s shot at 1:20 went up and over SCSU goaltender Jase Weslosky to give Miami the 2-1 win and a shot at the OHC championship on Sunday.
Mercier’s goal at 13:16 in the third was his 15th of the season, Palmer’s his third. Jeff Zatkoff made 25 saves on 26 shots for his 13th win of the year.
After a scoreless first period, Andreas Nodl netted his 10th of the season on a power play at 7:36 in the second to give the Huskies the lead.
“I thought it was typical of a first game back,” said Blasi. “We just didn’t have our legs early, both teams. It looked like a sluggish game early and they started to pick it up and take it to us a little bit and ‘Z’ made some big saves. I thought in the third period we finally found our legs and started to do the things that we do well.”
For the Huskies, the loss happened in a familiar fashion.
“We played well,” said coach Bob Motzko, a former Miami assistant coach (1994-98). “This is what we’ve been going through right now. We just went through a six-game losing streak that we broke right there at the end [of the first half of the season], and four of those games we had the lead in the third period just like that.
“We hate to blame youth . . . [and] we’ve been playing good teams, Denver, CC, Wisconsin, Miami, and we had leads in a lot of those games late, just like that. That’s what we’re battling right now, is trying to close teams out. We get back on our heels. We just don’t like the outcome.”
The Huskies took their 1-0 lead in the second after John Swanson picked RedHawks’ Ryan Jones’ pocket on a Miami power play. Swanson threaded Jones and another RedHawk, flew in alone on Zatkoff and shot. The puck went up and off of Zatkoff’s glove, fell to the right of the net, squibbed to the boards behind the net and landed on the stick of Ryan Lasch, who sent it across the crease to Nodl. Nodl backhanded it in behind Zatkoff and the second period ended 1-0.
Ironically, the goal seemed to feed Miami more than St. Cloud. Through the end of the second, the RedHawks picked up the pace of their game and by the beginning of the third were ready to go. Mercier’s goal was the end result of a flurry of activity in the SCSU end and a timely pass by Carter Camper. Camper passed to Mercier across the crease and his fake was convincing enough to make Weslosky turn in completely the wrong direction and wind up on his back, giving Mercier an open net on which to score.
Mercier was also instrumental on the game-winner. “First of all, ‘Merce’ went in there on the forecheck, knocked the guy off his feet a little bit, caused him to make a soft pass up the wall,” said Palmer, who was credited with an unassisted goal.
“I saw an opportunity to pick up the puck and as soon as I grabbed it, I was thinking top glove the whole way,” said Palmer. “I wanted whoever was in front of me to get out of the way and as soon as the lane was clear, I shot it and hoped and it turned it out all right for me.”
“We got some opportunistic bounces,” said Blasi. “Jarod’s shot in overtime obviously was a nice shot and ‘Merce’ scoring the goal was an opportunistic chance for us, but I thought our third period was our best period. For the most part this year, it has been our best period. Give the guys credit; they came out and played hard.”
Even with the loss, said Motzko, the Huskies “did so many good things.”
“I thought we were in control of the game, but we got back on our heels and they waited for a mistake and it happened; we made two of them.”