MARQUETTE, Mich. — Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle compared the first round of playoff hockey to a hockey game itself: best-of-three, like a three-period game. The Ohio State Buckeyes won the first period, or game, on Friday with a score of 4-3. Saturday went to the Wildcats with a score of 4-2. But everyone knows it’s the third period that counts and the Wildcats showed that they played 60-minute hockey with tonight’s 6-1 victory.
“I’m really proud of the effort and one of the things I’ve said about this team all year is there’s not quit in them and they’re really resilient,” Kyle said. “That’s a credit to the leadership. That’s a credit to all the guys buying into what we talk about. We talk about winning games in the third period and to win a playoff series late.
“We lost the first game and a lot of times the other team can build off of that but these guys kept it together and were able to go out there and come back and win the last two. So I’m really proud of the effort and the discipline and the patience of our team.”
Though the Wildcats won the game, Ohio State controlled the play for the majority of the first period. The calls and shots were even until 19:05 when Northern’s Mark Olver cleared the puck from the Wildcat’s zone. Andrew Sarauer picked it up and banked it back to Olver who put it left of Buckeye goalie Joseph Palmer giving the Wildcats the game’s edge.
The Buckeyes didn’t hold back. They controlled the game in every way during the second. They outskated, outshot and outhit the Wildcats, but took two bad calls at a bad time. At 12:59, Tommy Goebel went to the box for tripping and at 14:46 Jason DeSantis went in for cross checking.
The 15-second overlap gave the Wildcats a window to up their lead. A freshman trio consisting of Jerad Brown and Erik Gustafsson, Olver put the puck past Palmer, showing that you don’t have to have playoff experience to win a game.
The Buckeyes fell to the Wildcats in the third period. At 1:37 the Wildcats scored when TJ Miller fed Olver the puck who gave it to Phil Fox. Fox sent it across the crease and right of Palmer.
1:37 also marked the time when Patrick Schafer took a roughing call to give NMU their second power play goal of the night. Gustafsson passed the puck from the faceoff circle to Brown who waited in front of the net to send the puck past Palmer’s left knee.
Buckeye Peter Boyd wasn’t ready to give up, and at 3:24 he, Schaffer and Kyle Reed took advantage of a moment when Brian Stewart left the goal and put it past his glove.
Northern retaliated at 8:22 with their third power play goal of the night, a one timer from Matt Siddall at the point. The assist went to Alan Dorich.
Ohio State pulled their goalie at 14:37, hoping to give them an advantage. Brown took a delay of game penalty at 16:26 giving the Buckeyes a 6 on 4, but the Wildcat defense prevailed.
“We came out with a game plan and we just wanted to play 60 hard minutes of hockey and that’s what we did and everybody through the lineup brought everything they had and that’s all you can ask from those guys,” Siddall said. “And those young kids played great. From Stewart to our defense to the guys up front.”
Billy Smith, Blake Cosgrove and Brown summed up the game at 19:08 with an open net goal to send the Wildcats into the next round of the playoffs. Of course, they would have never made it without sophomore goalie Stewart and his 35 saves tonight.
“Stewart wasn’t very good on Friday but he answered two nights in a row,” Kyle said. “He’s been the backbone of our team. Not necessarily with the goalie performance but with the steady performance. We know what to expect from him.”
“We can really trust him now,” Olver said. “He had a really shaky first game and we knew that wasn’t Brian Stewart. He’s a really good goalie. We’re going to follow him as far as we can go.”
The Wildcats will head to East Lansing next weekend to take on the defending National Champions, the Michigan State Spartans.
“We weren’t trying to get through this round,” Kyle said. “We’re trying to win a championship and when you try to win a championship, every round you have to be a better opponent and so you have to be a better team every night and you have to be a better team every round.”