Playing 10 of the 13 newcomers on his roster, Ohio State men’s hockey coach Mark Osiecki knew there would be some nervous moments in the Buckeyes’ season opener Friday night.
What he might not have expected was an early gut check. But when the Buckeyes went into the second intermission tied at 1 with visiting Quinnipiac and facing a 26-10 shot disadvantage, that’s exactly what Osiecki and his team got.
Consider the Buckeyes to have cleared their first major hurdle, then. Three true freshmen – including scorer Ryan Dzingel – hooked up on the game-winning goal in the third period as Ohio State started the season with a 2-1 win in Value City Arena.
“It certainly takes some of the pressure off of them,” Osiecki said of the victory. “It’s going to be a journey for us and I think it’ll be a fun journey. I thought we reacted very well in the third period.”
Ohio State opened the season with a victory for the first time since 2007-08 another 2-1 win, that one vs. Mercyhurst in Dayton. That was the last year the Buckeyes welcomed in a large freshman class, but the Buckeyes went on to struggle mightily.
The hope is that won’t be the case again this year, but on this night, the young Buckeyes – steadied by a 35-save performance by senior Cal Heeter in goal – showed some resilience.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Dzingel said. “We had a lot of freshmen come out today and play hard. A lot of us were a little hesitant and nervous in the first game, myself included. The first two periods kind of showed that, but it showed a lot of character by our team coming out and the third and getting the win.”
Dzingel’s winner came at 7:44 of the third while the Buckeyes held a two-man advantage. Defenseman Ben Gallacher gave the puck to Dzingel, who worked a give-and-go with Max McCormick before cutting left to right across the face of goal and slotting the puck around goaltender Eric Hartzell.
“It’s one of those plays where it happened so quick I can’t even remember what happened, but two guys made some unbelievable passes,” Dzingel said. “I’m pretty grateful for that.”
The Buckeyes finished 2 for 4 on the power play and twice were awarded five-minute man-up chances after Quinnipiac players took contact-to-the-head majors.
The first Buckeye goal of the season, however, was on a plain-old two-minute advantage just 3:20 into the game. Freshman Darik Angeli fed junior Alex Carlson low in the left circle, and Carlson spun to his forehand before feeding sophomore Chris Crane at the right post for a simple tap-in.
The game was choppy from there, but the Buckeyes’ inability to convert on the five-minute PP chance in the second stemmed momentum and led to the Bobcats’ goal. With the teams even-strength at 16:20, Spencer Heichman scored on a scramble at the right post after a blown breakout attempt at the blue line.
Other than that, Heeter was perfect, showing an improved economy of motion and looking calm, cool and collected on the way to the victory. In addition, his team blocked 21 shots in front of him.
“We played great, I think, as a team in the D-zone,” Heeter said. “A couple of mental breakdowns in the D-zone, but we had a ton of guys blocking shots. We had guys all over sacrificing their bodies, blocking tons of shots and making it easy for me.”
Osiecki was also pleased overall with the team’s showing despite dressing three freshmen defensemen and seven first-year players up front.
“We knew going in that the guys were going to play probably like freshmen – a little bit nervous,” he said. “You saw it at times where we had a little bit of anxiety with the puck, but for the most part I thought our guys competed hard, battled on the blue lines, blocked shots, did a lot of good things.”
The teams will rematch Saturday night at 7:05.