The second half of the season has lived by the mantra of Murphy’s Law for the Ohio State men’s hockey team, so why would the last game of the regular campaign have been any different?
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong – badly – Saturday night in Value City Arena. Visiting Miami (Ohio) drubbed the Buckeyes by a 5-1 score, vocal RedHawks fans outnumbered – or at least outyelled – the home supporters among the 8,404 in the stands and the OSU goal horn even went off after one Miami goal.
Thus was the painful and fitting end to a 1-9-4 cap to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association campaign that dropped No. 17 Ohio State from league leaders at the midway point to a ninth-place finish.
Ohio State will start the CCHA playoffs as the No. 9 seed, traveling to eighth-seeded Notre Dame for a best-of-three series March 2-4.
“Home-ice advantage is huge in the playoffs,” OSU co-captain Sean Duddy said. “We’ve been on both sides of that. It’s definitely tough to go on the road but it’s a new season starting next week. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
Al McLean had the lone goal for Ohio State (15-13-2, 11-12-5-1 CCHA), while Miami was led by a pair of Austin Czarnik tallies. Reilly Smith also had a four-point night for the 15th-ranked RedHawks (21-13-2, 15-11-2-1), who finished fourth in the conference.
For the second time in three years, Ohio State went into its regular-season finale against Miami needing a result with playoff seeding on the line but stumbled badly. The RedHawks built a 3-1 lead after the first period and were up 5-1 just past the midpoint.
“It was not the start we wanted,” head coach Mark Osiecki said. “I thought our guys came out and competed. I think we competed right from the get-go. Obviously you don’t like to see the first shot go in the net. That doesn’t set a great tone but our guys competed. The first period I thought we were ready to go and competed. Unfortunately they found a way to score three goals.”
Before the game Ohio State honored seniors Duddy, Cory Schneider, Cal Heeter and Danny Dries, but the RedHawks clearly didn’t care, taking a 1-0 lead just 43 seconds into the game. Freshman Jimmy Mullin took a feed from Czarnik, walked around OSU freshman defender Justin DaSilva, cut left to right across Heeter’s face and scored under the goalie, who tried to sweep the puck off the line with his glove to no avail.
But Ohio State responded well, showing more intensity on the puck in the offensive end than they did in Friday night’s 3-0 loss in Oxford, which paid off with an equalizing goal at 8:45. With the Buckeyes holding a 5-on-3 advantage, McLean beat Miami goalie Connor Knapp through a screen from the right point for the third goal of his freshman campaign.
Ohio State stayed in the game for the next few minutes but the team’s carelessness in its defensive zone soon caught up with it. Miami took the lead for good on a power play at 15:34 as Cameron Schilling’s shot from the center point was deflected in by Blake Coleman from in front of the crease.
Miami made it 3-1 just 35 seconds later, as Mullin won a battle for the puck far too easily before feeding Will Weber at the blue line. His blast was knocked down in front, but Smith corralled it, spun and beat Heeter to the blocker for his 26th goal of the year.
It could have gotten a lot worse a lot quicker, too. Coleman hit the post with 10 seconds left in the period then Heeter had to stand tall to stop the Miami freshmen on a penalty shot within the first two minutes of the second period.
‘We struggled D zone,” Duddy said. “Pucks were bouncing off our sticks. Guys were forcing things. We just didn’t do a good enough job.”
McLean dinged the post for Ohio State on another 5-on-3 minutes later in what turned out to be the Buckeyes’ last gasp as Miami put the game away soon after. Czarnik’s first goal at 8:23, making it 4-1, was the result of a fantastic shift by the RedHawks that ended when he took Mullin’s pass from behind the net and scored from the left post.
Within two minutes, it was really over. Czarnik took a shorthanded feed from Smith 30 feet behind the OSU defense, waited for Heeter to commit and then roofed a shot for the breakaway goal at 10:06.
Heeter was then pulled in his last home game for backup Brady Hjelle, who made 15 saves.
“Certainly he didn’t have his ‘A’ game tonight,” Osiecki said. “I didn’t want to pull him out being a senior, and he needs to run with it. You’re feeling badly for him, and all of a sudden a couple more go in and it’s like, ‘Hey, get out of there.’ He’s our guy. He’s played tremendously well and he’s got to get regrouped for next weekend.”
The last 29 minutes and change were largely a formality. Now, Ohio State will have a week to regroup before heading to Notre Dame.
Dries missed his seventh consecutive game with an ankle injury. … Smith's goal total is first in the CCHA and second in the nation. … Knapp entered the game second in the nation in goals-against average at 1.53, a number he bested. … Ohio State lost its last seven games on the season in Value City Arena. …
Knapp … Mullin had three points for Miami. … Ohio State was 12-1-1 to close the calendar year of 2011 before finishing the regular season 1-9-4. … Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Will Weber was plus-4 for Miami while Duddy was minus-4 in his last home game. Sophomore Chris Crane was also minus-4 for