COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s top line, led by junior Alex Szczechura’s hat trick, bolstered the Buckeyes over the No. 6 Western Michigan Broncos in a 6-3 victory Saturday evening.
Saturday’s contest was a far cry from the 1-1 stalemate the two teams had on Friday evening. The gritty style Western Michigan plays was no match for the Buckeyes, who posted 39 shots on goal. The Buckeyes prevented Western Michigan from establishing its tight checking style by getting a large number of scoring chances.
“I thought Ohio State was very good tonight,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. “They had good tempo, an aggressive forecheck, and their coaches had their team ready to go from the get go. We scored three goals as a team, we should win is our philosophy as a team. When you don’t stay humble, you get humbled. We got humbled.”
Ohio State’s top line of Szczechura, Tanner Fritz, and Max McCormick combined for five goals and 11 points.
“Our line is clicking right now,” Szczechura said. “Our whole team is as well. I don’t know what is going on right now; pucks are just going in for me.”
“They are their top line for a reason,” Murray said. “The opposing team’s coach should not be impressed by the other team’s top line; you are supposed to be impressed by your own people. Not enough of our people impressed me tonight.”
Szczechura has turned his campaign around by scoring nine of his 12 goals this season in the last 13 games. He was scratched three times early in the season, but has rebounded to become the Buckeyes’ second-leading goal scorer.
“He was fighting his way to get into the lineup,” Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki said. “We knew as a staff that he was an offensive player, but he was fighting his way to earn that right to play on some offensive lines, and he has earned that right. It is important for him to play with the likes of (Ryan) Dzingel, Fritz, or Max (McCormick), because he can score goals.”
Western Michigan goalie Frank Slubowski was pulled after allowing six goals on 31 shots. He entered Saturday’s contest with one of the nation’s best goals-against average. He was pulled after Szczechura scored his third of the contest to give the Buckeyes a 6-3 advantage 5:22 into the third.
Szczechura got the Buckeyes on the board just 1:44 into the contest when he redirected a shot from Brandon Martell. Western Michigan responded with goals by Justin Kovacs and David Killip in the first period to give the Broncos a 2-1 first intermission advantage.
Fritz knotted the game at two 11:34 into the second when McCormick’s centering pass found Fritz between the circles.
Western Michigan responded with a power-play goal by Dennis Brown less than a minute later to give the Broncos a 3-2 advantage. That was the last time Western Michigan held the lead, as Ohio State put together a shooting gallery, with many of its 17 shots in the period taking place late in the stanza.
“It is hard to play when you put a lot of pucks on net,” Osiecki said. “As a former defenseman, you have to turn, you have to open up, you have to find pucks, and it is very difficult to play. The strength of their team is their goaltender and their defensemen.
“Our message was, ‘Shoot.’”
Szczechura scored 13:36 into the second off his own rebound to knot the game at three. McCormick scored the eventual game-winner 1:08 later off a loose puck. Darik Angeli scored his fourth of the season later in the second to give the Ohio State a 5-3 advantage going into the third period.
“We were going to the net, and pucks were landing right on my tape and I had a few chances,” Szczechura said. “As a team, we got pucks to the net, and it generated chances for us.”
Ohio State, unbeaten in six straight at home, will host Michigan next weekend. The Buckeyes can clinch their first ever first-round bye with a regulation or overtime victory. Western Michigan returns to Kalamazoo for a critical series against Notre Dame.