COLUMBUS, Ohio — The power play, the penalty kill and a little luck; that’s what it took for the No. 1 Miami RedHawks to beat Ohio State, 3-2, for the championship title of the fourth annual Ohio Hockey Classic.
After exchanging goals with the Buckeyes through the first 32:08 minutes of the game, scoring one on a power play and one shorthanded, and playing scoreless hockey for another 27:52, the RedHawks finally prevailed at 18:22 in the third when sophomore Gary Steffes shot from the center of the slot hit a knot of players in front of the net and flipped over everyone in its path, including Buckeyes’ goaltender Dustin Carlson, for the win.
“If you ask Gary Steffes, he shot it right in,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “We were kidding around in the locker room. I think it was just a bounce for us. We work hard. That’s kind of our game; we try to take the puck to the net.
“We weren’t getting through early. They did a nice job of blocking shots and making it difficult for us to get through, and that one happened to get through.”
The RedHawks got the better of special teams play, and both coaches agree that was the edge in this close contest.
Ryan Jones’ 17th goal of the year opened the scoring early in the first on a power play. Jarod Palmer’s fourth of the year, a shorthanded goal, made it 2-1 after one, and Miami killed off 1:23 of a five-on-three Buckeyes’ power play, allowing no OSU shots in that span, early in the third.
“Any time you kill a five-on-three, it just adds momentum to your team,” said Blasi. “It really energized our bench; you could just feel the energy on our bench. I really thought that that was a turning point in the game.”
“The five-on-three, for us, was the difference,” said Ohio State coach John Markell. “We had our oldest guys out there and we couldn’t get it set up. We might have had an opportunity, but we literally wasted that opportunity and it could make the difference. It has to make the difference. We lost the specialty teams, and obviously the shorthanded goal.”
On Jones’ goal, Miami was cycling in nearly slow motion and at will with little impediment from the OSU penalty kill. From behind the goal line, Carter Camper fed Jones in front of the net, and with three Buckeyes’ defenders between him and the net, Jones had all the time in the world to shoot, nearly shoveling the puck past Carlson for the 1-0 lead at 5:16.
The Buckeyes answered with an equally ugly goal less than a minute later. From just inside the neutral zone near the right boards, Peter Boyd passed across the ice and up to Kyle Reed speeding up the left side. Reed one-timed it from the left circle and hit Miami netminder Jeff Zatkoff’s pads; the puck trickled into the Miami net as Zatkoff turned to watch it go in, and the score was tied 1-1 at 6:13.
Palmer’s shorthanded breakaway goal at 14:33 gave the RedHawks a 2-1 lead after one. Raymond Eichenlaub intercepted the puck in the Miami zone near the blue line and chipped it out to Justin Mercier. Mercier flew up right with Palmer left, made a move to beat a sprawling Shane Sims near the left circle and passed across the crease to Palmer, whose shot went in behind Carlson.
“I don’t know what it is about Mercier, but whenever we’re out there killing penalties together, I always have a fun time out there,” said Palmer, who was named the tournament MVP with two goals on the weekend.
“He always seem to find me and I find him and we work hard and opportunities happen. Sometimes teams get a little lackadaisical on the power play and we take advantage of it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.”
The Buckeyes answered again fairly quickly, with John Albert’s second goal of the season at 2:08 in the second. Tommy Goebels streaked in right and passed across the crease to Albert, crashing left; Albert shot and beat Zatkoff cleanly to tie the game 2-2.
“We hit a lot of posts, but they had a couple of breakaways,” said Blasi. “It evens out in the end. I thought Jeff Zatkoff made some great saves, especially in the third period, and Carlson made some pretty big saves too.”
Blasi said that the closeness of the game shouldn’t be surprising, given the teams’ histories with each other and the play at this level of hockey.
“In college hockey, you cannot look at records,” said Blasi. “I think their coaching staff is doing a great job of getting them motivated and playing hard. I thought that game could have gone either way, and it didn’t surprise us one bit. We talked about it, how this was going to be a battle, and how it’d be a one-goal game, and we had to play our best hockey. We got an absolutely opportunistic bounce there at the end.
“I thought both teams played hard tonight. You couldn’t ask for a better college hockey game than that.”
While Markell would have liked the win, he said he was happy with the play he saw from his team tonight.
“I thought the kids played hard,” said Markell. “Miami is a little bigger, more mature team than we are. We have to get the pucks first instead of allowing them to control the corners. I thought we’re improving, and I think that’s one of our better weekends at home. We could have easily won the game. Obviously, they hit a couple of fat posts, but he [Carlson] stopped a couple of breakaways.
“You hate to see a winning goal go in that. On the one breakaway that Jones had, he played him well enough so that he hit the post, and that’s important. I think he did a great job for the situation he’s in. He’s got a great foundation to build off of going into next weekend.”
The Buckeyes (6-14-2, 2-9-1 CCHA) host conference rival Alaska next Friday and Saturday (Jan. 4-5), while Miami (18-2-0, 10-2-0 CCHA) travels to face another in-state CCHA foe, Bowling Green, the same dates.