ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Ohio State is headed for the Frozen Four for the first time in 20 years.
The top-seeded Buckeyes earned a spot in St. Paul with a 5-1 victory over the defending national champion Denver Pioneers on Sunday in the Midwest Regional final at the PPL Center.
“It’s really a proud moment for me, for these guys and our staff,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “To go into a game like that against the defending champs, very talented, I just have to give our guys a lot of credit. We were resilient tonight.”
Kevin Miller scored twice and Sean Romeo made 30 saves for the Buckeyes, who will play Minnesota Duluth in a national semifinal on April 5.
It was clear from the start that it was going to be a defensive battle, as neither team could grab control of the game and combined for just 14 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes, one of the nation’s premier penalty killing teams, were able to fight off their only penalty of the game and often used their stifling defense to generate offensive scoring chances on the counterattack.
Unlike Penn State, Denver’s first-round opponent, the Buckeyes’ primary focus was to shore things up on the defensive end before sending numbers forward on the attack. Ohio State continued its defensive-minded approach into the second period and eventually shifted the momentum in its favor.
Romeo, who was voted the regional’s most outstanding player, was the difference-maker.
“He’s been there all year, he’s been our rock,” Rohlik said. “He probably should have had a shutout last night and tonight he made a couple of huge saves for us. He’s just so steady and gives our team confidence. When you have great goaltending, it makes you look good as a coach, too.”
Dakota Joshua opened the scoring and gave Ohio State (26-9-5) a 1-0 lead after he sent a backhand shot, with his back to the net, past Tanner Jaillet with 16:13 remaining in the second period.
The game started to open up following the opening tally and featured a series of end-to-end rushes, highlighted by a Denver attack led by Troy Terry. Terry beat two defenders, swung around Romeo and sent a pass in front of the open net but he was unable to connect with another Denver forward.
The Buckeyes broke through again late in the period courtesy of a goal from Miller on a beautiful no-look pass from Christian Lampasso and took a two-goal lead into the second intermission.
“Lampasso made two really good passes to me tonight,” Miller said. “I had two goals and only had the puck on my stick for half of a second. I was fortunate to have two tap-ins.”
Despite all efforts to mount a comeback in the final period, Denver (23-10-8) could not break down Ohio State’s defense and managed to beat Romeo only a single time when the game was already out of reach. That lone goal came from Tyson McLellan.
“We just have to tip our caps to them. They executed their game plan well and we couldn’t execute what we wanted to do,” Denver captain Tariq Hammond said. “They were clogging up the middle and had three guys back at all times. We tried everything in the book to get going but it just wouldn’t work.”
The Buckeyes added goals from Mason Jobst, Matt Joyaux and Miller in the last 20 minutes of play to walk away with a four-goal victory over the Pioneers — a result not many people saw coming.
Ohio State became the third Big Ten team to make this year’s Frozen Four, along with Michigan and Notre Dame.
“If they play like that, they’re going to be national champions,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said.