DENVER — On the strength of their power play and a freshman goalie in his first collegiate start, the Ohio State Buckeyes delivered the first loss of the season to the Denver Pioneers Saturday night, 4-3.
“We beat a good hockey team on the road and I think what’s important is we had a rookie in nets for the first game of his career, college career against number two on the road and our young team learned how to win,” said Buckeye coach John Markell.
The win was anything but a done deal until the 2:13 point of the third period when captain Peter Boyd took advantage of a Pioneer turnover and wristed a shot top-shelf over Denver netminder Marc Cheverie’s left shoulder to break a tie.
“As I told the team after the game, it finally caught up with us,” said Pioneer head coach George Gwozdecky. “I give Ohio State great credit. They played a very smart, positional game [and] they transitioned on us tremendously.”
Despite the Pioneers getting the early man-advantage 16 seconds in to the contest, the Buckeyes got on the board first with a power play goal just over five minutes in when Chris Reed took a Sergio Somma pass and shot a seeing-eye puck behind Cheverie.
The Pioneers had a lot of chances to knot the score throughout the first with the best coming at about the halfway point of the frame. Rhett Rakhshani, fresh out of the penalty box, led a charge up ice that almost resulted in a goal when the puck hit the post behind Ohio State rookie goaltender Cal Heeter and ended up underneath him.
The pressure paid off two minutes into the second period when Anthony Maiani’s power play shot from the point beat Heeter low glove side and tied the score at one.
DU’s momentum was slowed when a Pioneer defensive-zone clear shattered a pane of glass along the right side board just down from the OSU bench.
However, the momentum wasn’t halted as about a minute after the glass was cleared off the ice, Joe Colborne scored a fluky goal to put the Pioneers up 2-1 3:24 into the second. What was meant as a pass across the crease to Tyler Bozak ended up getting deflected through Heeter’s five-hole and in the net.
“I tried to center out to Tyler Bozak and it kind of luckily bounced off their defenseman,” said Colborne.
The Pioneers extended their lead to two about two minutes later on a passing play on a two-man advantage. Patrick Mullen, on Heeter’s left, passed the puck to Rhett Rakhshani on the opposite point who dished it to Patrick Wiercioch who fired the puck from the right face-off circle past Heeter.
With about six minutes to go in the middle frame, the Pioneers took a forced timeout when captain J.P. Testwuide blocked a shot off his ankle right before his Pioneers iced the puck. Due to the new icing rule which prevents the players of the offending team from making a change, Gwozdecky had to call a timeout in order to get his injured captain off the ice.
“In the rulebook, on an icing, you can replace for two reasons: you can replace your goaltender and you can replace an injured player,” said Gwozdecky after the game, clarifying the incident. “It’s in the rulebook and I presented our officials with the rules at the second intermission. But, that’s got nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”
The teams exchanged chances throughout the rest of the period. However, Ohio State was the only team able to score, adding a power play tally to make it a 3-2 game when Matt Bartkowski, Corey Elkins and Zac Dalpe connected on a tic-tac-toe passing play that ended up with Dalpe a cross-crease pass in the net before Cheverie could get back across the crease.
The Buckeyes got a good shorthanded rush at the end of the period, but Cheverie stood strong. However, the team was able to carry that momentum into the third period when Elkins tipped a Bartkowski shot past Cheverie to tie the game at three.
The play continued back and forth throughout the rest of the period, but Boyd’s goal was the only one to end up on the scoreboard. Gwozdecky pulled Cheverie late in the game to try and tie the game, but despite multiple chances and a shot off the crossbar, Heeter and the Buckeyes held on for the win.
“We bought into doing the little things; getting pucks out, blocking shots, shooting pucks on net and it worked,” said Markell. “All the little things that we measure ourselves on that we try to hope that these kids buy into and trust that’s the way you win hockey games in college hockey and it proved itself, [helped out by] one big fat post too, in the third period.”
“If there is a silver lining, it’s that it’s October 25th,” said Gwozdecky. “It’s still a very young season, I think we got … humbled.”
The Pioneers next play a home-and-home series with intrastate rival Colorado College while the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to face the University of Michigan.