MARQUETTE, Mich. — “Let the past remain in the past.”
That’s what the Ohio State Buckeyes said as they entered the first round of the CCHA playoffs. After falling to the Northern Michigan Wildcats after holding a one game lead in Columbus during last year’s playoffs, they came up to Marquette with a vengeance and won Fridays game 4-3.
However, the past decided to show itself again as the Wildcats took an early lead and held on for a 4-2 win, mirroring the pattern of last season’s playoffs.
“Ohio State is definitely a team that can hurt us and we had to come out and just play our game,” Wildcats’ junior Nick Sirota said. “We had a good game yesterday, but the bounces just didn’t go our way and today they just happened to and we’re already looking forward to tomorrow’s match up. It’s going to be the same type of game and we’re just going to have to take it from there.”
The first period kicked off three minutes in with a goal for Northern. Alan Dorich shot the puck from the blue line, and after Buckeyes’ goalie Joseph Palmer blocked it with his glove, the puck went behind the net where the Wildcats’ Jared Brown passed it forward to Sirota, who put the puck in the five hole.
“That was definitely a confidence booster for them and gave them some momentum,” said Ohio States Jason DeSantis, who had two points on the night. “A goal at the end of a period isn’t something that we want, but it was an unlucky bounce.”
Unwilling to step down, the Buckeyes retaliated with a goal at 7:03 from Kyle Reed, Tommy Goebel, and DeSantis, who shot the puck from the point, putting it behind Wildcats’ goalie Brian Stewart’s right side.
“I was nervous at the start because I had a rough game last night,” Stewart said. “I came into this game and had to get my game back on track. They scored on the second shot of the night. It was a slap shot from the point and there was a half screen. I was a little riled about that but I had to fight my way through it.”
The Wildcats took their lead back at 1:28 of the second. The goal, from Phil Fox, Matt Butcher and Ray Kaunisto, was a wrist shot by Fox that went low stick side.
The same spot gave the ‘Cats their two goal lead at 19:59 when Sirota and Erik Gustafsson helped Mark Olver push the puck through unreal traffic in front of the net on a power play.
6:18 in the third, the ‘Cats bumped up their lead to 4-1. The goal, from Sirota, Siddall, and Gustafsson, hit two Buckeyes’ defensemen before making it into the net.
“We got some goals from some very key guys,” Wildcats’ coach Walt Kyle said. “Sirota was great when we needed him to be great. Siddall and Gustafsson were outstanding. Butcher was outstanding. Greger Hanson was outstanding tonight. Stewart was solid. He made some great saves tonight and he pulled off the penalty shot. We believe in him and we know what hes capable of.”
“Our defense has done really well the last few months since we all started playing better,” Stewart said. “We’re stepping up, clearing rebounds and it’s a huge help. We have to keep the same intensity and we cannot hold back. We have to keep on pounding, keep on going, and not give up. No mental errors and keep the momentum going.”
“Honestly, we’ve played the same the last two nights,” Sirota said. “We lose tomorrow and we’re out and we know that. I don’t doubt this team’s effort. This effort is here every night. It’s just a matter of getting the puck to the net and playing a strong game.”
At 18:05, Ohio State’s Nick Biondo took a penalty shot after Dorich tripped him heading to the net. Stewart had the save.
“That was my first penalty shot I’ve ever had in a game,” Stewart said. “It was cool. All our guys take about 20 penalty shots on me each every day in practice so I just came out and challenged and just shut down the five hole.”
At 19:45, after pulling their goalie, Ohio State’s Kyle Reed pulled the Buckeyes within two with the help of DeSantis and Kyle Hood. Despite their late effort, the game ended 4-2 for the Wildcats with even shots on goal.
“We’re going to have our hands full tomorrow,” Kyle said. “We can’t get too high or too low. They’re a very good team and it’s a very even series.
“Our defense has done really well the last few months since we all started playing better,” said Stewart. “We’re stepping up, clearing rebounds and it’s a huge help. We have to keep the same intensity and we cannot hold back. We have to keep on pounding, keep on going, and not give up. No mental errors and keep the momentum going.
“It’s the same thing that happened last year and we have to take a different approach than we did then and try to regroup and come back tomorrow,” DeSantis said.