COLUMBUS, Ohio — Apparently, there is little that Northern Michigan goaltender Brian Stewart can’t do.
Not only did the sophomore make 46 saves in his second consecutive shutout, but the goalie had an assist on NMU’s empty-net goal at 19:09 in the Wildcats’ 2-0 win over Ohio State.
However, a second straight blanking a of Big Ten team was the last thing that Stewart wanted to think about tonight. “It goes through my head. I don’t want it to, but it does. Whenever I think about it, they usually score.”
The shutout was the third of Stewart’s career, and marked the third straight win for the goaltender and the Wildcats over the Buckeyes. Midway through the first game of the first round of the CCHA playoffs last season, a 6-2 OSU win in Columbus, Stewart replaced starting NMU goaltender Bill Zaniboni and played well enough to earn the start the next night, when he and the Wildcats won 3-2 in overtime. They wrapped up the series with another 3-2 win with Stewart in net.
Those playoff wins were NMU’s first over OSU in Columbus since 1981, and since they were played in the OSU Ice Arena rather than the Schottenstein Center, tonight’s decision was the first win for the Wildcats in this building.
“I think that we had struggled down here,” said NMU coach Walt Kyle “Last year, we won in the playoffs, but the series prior to that they controlled us. We’ve had some tough luck down here and the guys were aware of it.”
The lack of success in Columbus was “a big deal last year in the playoffs,” said Stewart, who added that the Schottenstein monkey was “in the back of some peoples’ minds.”
On the other side of the ice, overshadowed by Stewart’s performance and the breaking of NMU’s curse in the Schott, was the play of OSU sophomore goaltender Joseph Palmer, who allowed one goal on 25 shots, Matt Siddall’s game-winning one-timer from the top of the slot that came one second after an NMU power-play expired at 11:45 in the second.
“I thought it was a bit of a goaltending duel,” said OSU coach John Markell. “We provided ourselves with enough opportunities to get a goal. In the third period we were pressing to get a goal, we got a little anxious and allowed some odd-man rushes, but Joe Palmer was there for us to give us the opportunity to win.”
The Buckeyes outshot the Wildcats 17-7 in the first and 14-7 in the second, yet trailed 1-0 on Siddall’s goal from Mark Olver and Erik Gustafsson. The third period was more evenly played, with 15 OSU shots to 12 for the Wildcats. Olver had the empty-net goal at 19:09 in the third after Stewart cleared the puck out to him.
Both teams had goals disallowed by referee Matt Shegos. At 15:41 in the second, what would have been Wildcat defenseman Alan Dorich’s first goal of the season was called back after review because Matt Butcher was in the crease behind Joseph Palmer, and at 12:53 in the third, Buckeye Sergio Somma’s goal was disallowed because Tommy Goebel had played the puck with a high stick.
“I thought both calls are right,” said Kyle. “Our guy was in the crease behind the goaltender. I didn’t see it but he [Shegos] certainly did.”
The win gives the Wildcats a 3-0-2 record in February and puts NMU into a three-way tie for sixth place in the CCHA standings with Bowling Green and Ferris State, each with 22 points, each two points behind fifth-place Nebraska-Omaha. The teams that finish fifth through eighth in the final league standings host a first-round playoff series.
The loss is the 12th at home for the Buckeyes and their second home shutout loss in four games.
“I thought the effort was there, the execution was there,” said Markell. “I thought that some of the kids got a little anxious. Certainly, we have to have the ability to score a goal in our own building. We got the puck to the paint; we’ve just got to get to the rebounds.”
The Wildcats (13-15-3, 10-11-2 CCHA) and Buckeyes (9-21-3, 5-16-2 CCHA) play again at 7:05 Saturday night for their last regular-season meeting of the year. Kyle said that the Wildcats think they have some work to do before the puck drops.
“We didn’t do as good a job defensively as we would have liked. They’re a good team. It’s a one-goal game basically, and fortunately we converted [at the end of] that power play.
“We’ll be a better team tomorrow. We have to be. We know that. They’ll be a better team tomorrow for sure.”