EAST LANSING, Mich. – As Alex Szczechura went without a goal in his first seven games, Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki talked about how the freshman forward was still playing well.
Now that Szczechura is hitting the scoreboard, the Buckeyes are even happier. Szczechura extended his goal-scoring streak to three games with a pair of tallies – including the overtime winner – and Ohio State moved its win streak to the same number of contests with a 4-3 win Friday night at No. 16 Michigan State.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played in front of that many fans in my life, so scoring a goal like that was pretty exciting for me,” Szczechura said. “Things are just rolling for me right now and for our line and our team also.”
His winner – which completed a two-goal comeback for the Buckeyes – was a simple hockey play. After the Buckeyes won an offensive zone faceoff, Curtis Gedig shot it toward the net from the left point, but it deflected onto Szczechura’s stick in front. The freshman simply spun and slid the puck into an open net behind MSU goalie Drew Palmisano to give the Buckeyes the hard-fought victory.
“I was just sitting out front and the puck bounced to me and I put it in,” Szczechura said. “It was pretty simple.”
With the win, Ohio State improved to 5-5-0 on the year, including 2-3-0-0 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
The winning goal capped a thrilling, back-and-forth game in front of 6,090 fans in MSU’s Munn Ice Arena. The Spartans dominated the opening 30 minutes and built a 3-1 lead, but a horrible error by Palmisano gave the Buckeyes life early in the third.
The Spartans goalie came racing out wildly to beat OSU’s Cory Schneider to a puck 40 feet from goal, but his sliding effort didn’t leave the zone and Buckeye freshman Chris Crane took the puck and fired it into the open cage to make it 3-2 at 1:53 of the third.
Ohio State then tied the score then at 9:16, as Shane Sims’ slap shot from the center point with a man all over him went top shelf over Palmisano’s blocker.
"Our team is good if we take care of the puck,” OSU head coach Mark Osiecki said about the change in momentum. “That's where our forwards are at their best and I thought eventually we started doing that a little better. It hammers home what we’ve been working on."
From there, the game was a thriller, going up and down the ice through regulation and finally ending with Szczechura’s goal. There were more than enough chances for an earlier winner, with particularly sterling ones going to Sergio Somma and Cory Schneider as well as MSU’s Matt Crandall and team leading scorer Brett Perlini.
However, the Spartans’ scoring attempts were turned aside by Ohio State goaltender Cal Heeter, who kept the Buckeyes in the game early with 12 first-period saves on the way to 31 for the game.
In fact, Michigan State (3-3-3, 1-3-1-0) could have led by more than their 2-1 advantage after the opening period if not for the junior netminder. He was beaten on a pair of bounces – with Matt Merrifield’s power-play tip-in and Derek Grant’s wraparound tally after a ricochet off the back wall accounting for the scoring – but made some big stops as the team struggled to find its legs.
Szczechura also had his opening tally in the first period, scoring on a breakaway after Sergio Somma forced a turnover, but Osiecki was not happy with the opening frame.
"What I'm pleased with is the response after the first period,” he said. “The first intermission, we challenged our leadership. I don’t think they prepared themselves the way they should, and I'm very pleased with how they responded to that."
The Spartans had the lone tally of the second to make it 3-1, with Jake Chelios tallying in front of his NHL legend father Chris on the power play at 8:40. However, Ohio State outshot the home team 19-11 in the period and closed the frame with 3:32 of power-play time, turning the worm going into the third.
“It shows we have a lot of character and heart,” Szczechura said. “We’re always working hard in practice and competing, and I think it paid off with the win tonight.”
Notes: Palmisano finished with 35 saves for the Spartans. … Grant had 12 goals last year as a freshman but his tally tonight was his first of 2010-11. … The game was OSU’s first overtime contest of the year but was the fourth for Michigan State. … OSU was 0 for 6 on the power play but had 15 shots, while MSU scored on both of its extra-man chances on a total of three shots. … As a result, no one from OSU was minus, and Sims finished plus-3. … The teams meet again Saturday night at 7 p.m.