For the first half of the college hockey season, the No. 2 Ohio State men’s hockey team seemed comfortable in its new reality of being one of the top teams in the country.
Head coach Mark Osiecki had a feeling that wouldn’t last, though, and no experience was more different than Sunday’s Frozen Diamond Faceoff, a marquee outdoor event in Progressive Field.
Playing for the first time on such a stage against an experienced Michigan team that has been there before, Ohio State looked like newcomers. The No. 15 Wolverines took an early 2-0 lead then salted the game away with a pair of tallies 28 seconds apart midway through the second, upsetting the Buckeyes by a 4-1 score in front of 25,864 in Cleveland as part of the Indians’ Snow Days promotion.
“I thought you could tell a little bit in the first period, we were a bit in awe of the situation,” co-captain Cory Schneider said. “Michigan has some experience in outdoor games before. I’m not using that as an excuse. That shouldn’t have prevented us from competing.”
Indeed, it appeared the Wolverines – who finished with a 42-32 shot edge – had the competitive edge throughout, seemingly beating the Buckeyes to every loose puck, winning battles along the wall and keeping the Buckeye offense from getting to the front of the net.
As a result, Ohio State stayed winless in four games, falling to 14-6-3 (10-5-3-1) and seeing its seven-point CCHA lead entering the weekend fall to just one point over Western Michigan, which swept No. 3 Notre Dame.
“I think our kids competed but not as a group of five on the ice,” Osiecki said. “I also think that we have to go through a situation like this. Our kids have never been through it.”
Chris Crane had Ohio State’s lone goal, but normally steady goaltender Cal Heeter wasn’t on his game – fitting given his name and the temperatures in the 20s – and was replaced midway through the game by junior Brady Hjelle.
Michigan’s top line of Chris Brown, Alex Guptill and David Wohlberg outclassed the Buckeyes, as each player had a goal, while Brown finished with a game-high three points. Derek Deblois also scored for the Wolverines (14-8-4, 8-6-4-1), who moved into third place in the CCHA by completing the sweep of OSU.
“It was a good game for Michigan to win,” legendary Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “In the CCHA standings we’re quite a ways behind Ohio State, so that was an important victory. On the big picture, it was a great spectacle.”
Unlike Friday night’s 4-0 Michigan in which both teams played evenly throughout, Berenson’s Wolverines had the early edge in this one. Michigan pressed until Brown’s opening goal, scored at 7:31 as he spun and fired from the slot after Kevin Clare’s shot from the right point bounced to him.
Schneider hit the post going the other way, then Michigan doubled the lead at 13:33 when Brown dropped a no-look pass to Guptill in the left circle for the freshmen to roof over Heeter’s far shoulder.
Ohio State tried to get back in it with Crane, who scored his team-leading 13th goal of the year just 50 seconds into the second. One second after an OSU power play ended, Crane took a cross-crease feed from Max McCormick and tapped it into the yawning net behind Shawn Hunwick to make it 2-1.
It was the only time the Buckeyes would best Hunwick on the weekend.
“I just think we’re in a funk right now,” Crane said of the scoring woes. “Teams are going to go through adversity throughout the season. We’re in a ditch right now and we just have to go out there and work hard every day in practice and try to get out of it.”
Ohio State tried to push for the equalizer but the best chance went for naught when senior Greg Pateryn broke up a Buckeye 3-on-1 rush.
Michigan put the game away in bang-bang fashion with a pair of goals sandwiching the midway point of the period. Deblois took advantage when the puck hopped over the stuck of OSU defenseman Devon Krogh, redirecting a pass from Wohlberg over Heeter’s glove from the slot at 9:47.
Wohlberg made it 4-1 just 28 seconds later when he drove the net from the right wing and scored under Heeter with Chad Niddery draped all over his back, giving all three members of the Wolverines’ top line a goal.
“I think we’re three big bodies working hard and just trying to grind it out and get pucks to the net,” Wohlberg said of his line. “There’s a chemistry right now that I can’t explain, but it just seems to be working.”
That was all she wrote for Heeter, who entered with stats among the best in the country but gave up four goals on 24 shots. Hjelle stopped 18 shots in the last 29:34.
“Brady played outstanding, especially sitting on the bench in this cold weather,” Osiecki said. “Cal has been solid for us. Unfortunately two goals happened bang-bang, and we had to make a change. Certainly not pointing the finger at Cal. We have to do a better job on front of him, but it was just a situation where maybe this will jump-start our team.”
It didn’t do much, though, as Ohio State was unable to solve Hunwick the rest of the way. The Michigan goalie also got lucky, as OSU had a 3-and-2 early in the period but Crane flipped his shot over the bar.
Ohio State fell to 0-2 all-time in outdoor games, having also lost in February 2006 to Wisconsin in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. But now that he’s experienced one, Crane left with the opinion things would be different if the Buckeyes ever got another chance at an outdoor event.
“I just think redemption will be on every single one of our teammates’ minds here,” Crane said. “If we get fortunate enough to get another opportunity, we’re going to come out and we’re going to get redemption.”
Festivities Impress Players, Fans
The final score wasn’t pretty for Ohio State, but everything else about the Frozen Diamond Classic at Progressive Field in Cleveland was a positive for players, coaches and fans.
The game was the first major hockey contest to be held outdoors in the state of Ohio and provided the Buckeyes a chance at playing on a larger stage than the one they have at Value City Arena in Columbus. The Buckeyes saw increased media attention leading up to Sunday’s game and played in front of 25,864 at Progressive Field.
“We need to be on a stage like this for our program to grow,” Osiecki said. “Not any of these kids have been through this. It’s the same type of environment, same type of media that’s centered around NCAA time, CCHA time, and we need to go through this experience.”
The experience of taking the OSU-Michigan rivalry outside was also a benefit for the players.
“It’s a hockey player’s dream to be able to play on a big stage like this, especially against one of our biggest rivals,” Crane said. “It was a blast tonight.”
It wasn’t just a blast for the players. Ohio State had plenty of students make the trek northeast to see the Buckeyes take the ice. Pep bands from both Ohio State and Michigan helped make the home of the Cleveland Indians seem a little like a football Saturday.
“This is a lot different with it being outside,” OSU freshman Natalie Hornback said. “It’s pretty cool. The stadium’s a lot bigger than an arena.”
The Frozen Diamond Faceoff was Hornback’s first collegiate game. She made the trip with friend and fellow freshman Erika Ralston, who is one of many Ohio State students who have become hockey fans this season. Ralston has been to every OSU home game and has fallen in love with the sport.
She called the pregame atmosphere “pretty crazy.”
“It’s going to be cool to see all the screaming fans here today,” Ralston said beforehand.
Unlike Ohio State, Michigan is no stranger to playing outdoors. The game was Michigan’s third outdoor game in as many seasons, and that showed in how U-M was not overwhelmed by the atmosphere.
However, Michigan’s players said this one was different, as the first two had been played in college football stadiums as opposed to the more cozy confines of the baseball diamond.
“The first two years the people were kind of far away,” Pateryn said. “Here at the baseball stadium, you kind of look through the glass and everyone’s a bit closer to you, which was pretty neat to see. I feel like this was definitely a good change.”
There are no set plans to make the Frozen Diamond Classic an annual event, but OSU players want another shot on the special stage.
“We’re all hockey players at the end of the night, and I can’t lie, it was an unbelievable experience,” Crane said. “It’s something I can’t explain.”
Ohio State played without true freshman forward Ryan Dzingel, who is going through a disciplinary issue, and sophomore defenseman Curtis Gedig, who is injured. Dzingel entered third on the team with 17 points while Gedig is one of the team’s best blue liners. … Michigan answered OSU’s November sweep in Ann Arbor’s Yost Ice Arena, the Buckeyes’ first in a quarter-century, with its first two-game sweep on Ohio soil since 1991. … It was OSU’s first game in Cleveland since beating Robert Morris, 7-4, at Quicken Loans Arena in December 2008.
BSB staffer Matthew Hager contributed to this report.