Just call them the Kardiac Buckeyes – and Alex Szczechura, Mr. Overtime Winner.
For the third weekend in a row, the Ohio State men’s hockey team came back from a third-period deficit to earn a positive result over a ranked team, and for the second time Szczechura potted the overtime tally.
His goal 1:43 into overtime capped a dramatic rally as the Buckeyes (6-7-1, 3-5-1-1- CCHA) downed No. 11 Michigan by a 3-2 score in front of 5,454 energetic fans in Value City Arena.
“I just put it on net and it went in,” the freshman said humbly of his fifth goal and third game winner. “I kind of just got it off. I wasn’t aiming too much. I was just trying to get it on net because there were a lot of guys on me. It went in so I’ll take it.”
The shot from the slot – off a pass from Peter Boyd low in the left corner on a rush – appeared to handcuff Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick, who was beaten five-hole.
Ohio State’s players poured off the bench to mob Szczechura while the season’s largest crowd – packing the building for the rivalry game, the first CCHA contest OSU has hosted in VCA this year – roared.
The crowd had sang “We Don’t Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan” at the opening faceoff and gave the Wolverines a final serenade as they left the ice. Half of the Michigan team skated off before the postgame handshake before head coach Red Berenson, who said they simply forgot, sent them back on the ice.
“It was great,” Somma said of the crowd. “It was a lot of fun. It was a great atmosphere. I think the fans were real energetic and obviously it really helped us going into the overtime, I felt.”
The senior set up the extra period with a dramatic goal. The Wolverines (8-5-4, 7-3-1-0) led 2-1 near the end of a taut, physical affair, but the Buckeyes earned a faceoff in the offensive zone with less than 20 seconds left while holding a 6-on-4 advantage after pulling goalie Cal Heeter. David Wohlberg was also in the box for U-M after his cross-check on C.J. Severyn perhaps prevented an OSU goal in the final minute.
The draw was won back to Curtis Gedig at the left point, and his shot bounced off of Boyd and sat in front for Somma, who collected the puck and slid it around Hunwick with 10.4 seconds left on the clock.
It was OSU’s second extra-attacker goal in the past three games, as the Buckeyes tallied vs. No. 14 Alaska in the final 10 seconds last Friday on the way to a shootout win.
“You try to win it back, then you just try to get the puck to the net, get guys to the net,” said Somma, whose goal was his team-best seventh. “That’s basically how you score goals at the end of the game. They’re usually greasy goals like that one.”
Michigan appeared to have an odd-man rush in overtime, but Severyn back-checked and kept the Wolverines from getting a shot off. OSU went the other way quickly and Szczechura scored, just as he did in OT as the Buckeyes beat then-No. 16 Michigan State in East Lansing on Nov. 12.
Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki was pleased with his team’s ability to yet again come back from adversity in the form of a late deficit.
“We find a way,” he said. “Guys certainly don’t sit back on their heels when something bad happens. The best thing we’ve shown all the way throughout the year is we’re a very, very resilient group. Maybe the term is relentless. That’s how we want to play. That’s how we want to be no matter what happens.”
On the other side, Berenson was less than pleased that his team let the lead slip away.
“It’s a travesty to even give up the tie, let alone the win,” the legendary coach said. “It’s just poor accountability on our team. Good for them, good home-ice victory, but for us to give up the lead late in the game is unacceptable.”
It didn’t look like Michigan would leave without points in the opening minutes, which the Wolverines dominated territorially. However, Heeter stopped nine shots, watched an early Wolverine goal be waved off because it was kicked and collected a spinning power-play effort from Carl Hagelin that hit the post.
“Cal has given us an opportunity every game,” Osiecki said. “If you want to say he’s been our best player all year, that might be an understatement. He’s certainly been our most consistent player all year, so you can’t say enough good things about Cal right now.”
That allowed Ohio State to strike first at 4:34 of the second when senior John Albert skated in along the right side and flipped an innocent-enough looking backhander through the wickets of Hunwick.
Michigan got its own fluky goal on the power play at 8:43 of the frame when John Merrill’s shot from the top of the right circle deflected off the skate of OSU’s Cory Schneider and agonizingly slid near-post past the crossed-up Heeter.
The teams went back and forth from there. Albert almost gave Ohio State the lead with 11:46 left but his shot hit the post, though the horn went off and it had to be reviewed. Only 29 seconds later, Michigan sniper Louie Caporusso skated in on a rush and beat Heeter cleanly and spectacularly over the glove from the slot to make it 2-1.
It could have been the game winner, but instead the goal set up the late theatrics.
Notes: Heeter finished with 28 saves to Hunwick’s 26. … Michigan outshot OSU 19-14 through the first two periods, but the Buckeyes had a 13-9 edge in the third period. … Michigan was 1 for 4 on the power play while OSU was 1 for 3. … Columbus Blue Jackets prospects Matt Rust and Kevin Lynch comprised two-thirds of U-M’s top line, but both finished minus-2.