COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the Ohio State Buckeyes, Christmas came a little late — but it did arrive, finally.
With a sustained, physical effort and a dominating presence in the neutral zone, the Buckeyes beat the Alaska Nanooks, 5-2, for OSU’s first home CCHA win of the season.
“I think we played a good game,” said head coach John Markell. “Last night…a bunch of guys were terrific, but it’s a team game. We’re the type of team that everybody has to show up. We don’t have a superstar to carry us, but we’re very good when 20 guys show up.”
Sergio Somma’s seventh goal of the season was the game-winner at 5:08 in the third. Mathieu Picard led the Buckeyes in goal production with an even-strength tally and an empty-net goal. Tom Fritsche and Shane Sims were the other OSU scorers, and freshman Dustin Carlson had his second win of the season and second in four straight starts with 17 saves as the Bucks outshot the Nanooks 30-19.
After Friday’s 4-2 Alaska win, tonight’s game was a reversal of fortune — and, apparently, effort — for the Buckeyes and Nanooks. Friday, Markell said that his team had played an immature game while Nanook head coach Doc DelCastillo praised his squad’s work ethic in UA’s first win in Columbus since 2003.
Tonight, however, it was DelCastillo whose post-game commentary betrayed how unimpressed he was with what he saw from his players. When asked about the difference between the contests, DelCastillo’s answer was to the point. “I think it was pretty easy. They were hungrier than we were. Pretty tough when you get outworked.”
The Buckeyes limited the Nanooks to just two shots on goal in the first period, and those didn’t come until after 15 minutes of hockey had been played — but what shots they were.
The Buckeyes were up 1-0 on the goal that Fritsche scored at 6:31, a bullet from the left circle that sailed past UA goaltender Wylie Rogers and hit the far side of the net, and seemed in little danger of allowing a shot at all in the opening stanza when UA created its first genuine scoring chance of the game. On the breakaway, Dion Knelsen took Alaska’s first shot of the game at 15:44, and UA’s second shot just three seconds later became Kevin Petovello’s first career goal to tie the game 1-1 after one.
In the second period, Picard scored his first goal of the game when he picked up Corey Elkins’ rebound at 4:20 shortly after Elkins exited the penalty box to put OSU ahead 2-1, and the Buckeyes managed to keep that lead until just before the period ended, in spite of giving the Nanooks six more minutes of the man advantage. But at 19:45, Derek Klassen took a cross-crease pass from Knelsen, skated in on Carlson, and put the puck up and over the goalie’s left shoulder.
It was the kind of last-minute goal that can change the momentum in a game, but Somma said it was OSU’s attitude between periods that made the difference.
“I thought we were the best team on the ice the whole game,” said Somma. “In the locker room, everyone was calm and everyone felt fine. [We thought that] if we just kept playing like we were playing we were going to pull it out. Just kept it even keel.”
Somma’s game-winner at 5:08 in the third was his fourth power-play marker of the season on a play that has become something of a signature shot for the freshman: low in the right circle, over the goalie’s near shoulder. “I [took] my time because the goalie has to think twice about it,” said Somma, “because once he goes down, I shoot high.”
Somma assisted on Sims’ goal at 13:49, a one-timer from the left point that went long, and Picard added the empty-net goal at 18:04, as Rogers was pulled for the extra attacker at 17:25.
“You look at it and what put them over the top was the power play,” said DelCastillo. “Someone stepped up and made a great shot over the goalie’s shoulder, and that gave them the lead.
“I don’t think they were dominant in the third period. The third period was back and forth. We take a marginal holding penalty, and they capitalize on the power play.”
The Buckeyes were 1-for-3 on the power play, the Nanooks 0-for-5.
“I thought Alaska played a good game,” said Markell. “They capitalized on their opportunities. We gave them two and they put both of them in. We did a better job of staying a little resilient [after] that and not getting emotional about them scoring.”
This was the last regular-season game between UA and OSU, and Alaska got the better of the series, 2-1-1.
Next up for Alaska (4-11-3, 4-8-2 CCHA) is a week in Grand Rapids before two games in Big Rapids against Ferris State, Jan. 11-12. Ohio State (7-15-2, 3-10-1 CCHA) host the National Development Under-18 team in exhibition at home Jan. 11 before resuming league play against Michigan State in Columbus the following week.