The first minute of Friday night’s game was a continuation of the frustration that has dogged the Ohio State men’s hockey team all season.
The rest of contest allowed the Buckeyes to take out that frustration out on No. 19 Northern Michigan in Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes lost forward Alex Lippincott to a head shot just 54 seconds into the game, but Ohio State dominated the rest of the way while posting a 2-0 shutout of the visiting Wildcats in front of 3,154 in Value City Arena.
“We’ve played well like that and didn’t have much to show for it, but we had another injury,” head coach Mark Osiecki said. “Short bench, I think our guys rallied. That was a tough hit Lipp absorbed there. I like the way our guys reacted and the way we came out.”
Travis Statchuk scored his first career game-winning goal for the Buckeyes while Max McCormick also tallied as OSU snapped a three-game winless streak. Brady Hjelle made 20 saves while making his second shutout of the season, lowering his goals-against average to 1.55.
“Coach has been harping on, let’s work hard,” said sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel, who had two assists. “We actually played our game. We’ve been playing like that for weeks in practice, and it felt good to actually come out and do it.”
The mood was the opposite on the other side as Northern Michigan fell to 4-5-2 (1-4-2-0 CCHA) and stayed winless in its last three. The Wildcats were without injured forward Reed Seckel, who is second on the team in goals, and leading scorer Matt Thurber was booted from the game for his hit on Lippincott in the early going.
“We had a lot of guys who had great opportunities to show us who they are tonight, and they did,” Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said. “The first period, we were awful. We have not been a very good Friday night team, and then I think we had to play some of our top guys early to kill that major. I think we got shook.”
In fact, Ohio State (3-3-3, 2-1-2-1) outshot the Wildcats by a 19-1 margin in the first period. The tone was set when Thurber, whose 11 assists lead the nation, put an elbow into Lippincott’s head as the OSU junior skated through the neutral zone less than a minute into the game.
Lippincott tried to get to his feet after the hit but stumbled back to the ice before being helped to the bench. He did not return, and Osiecki said his status is unknown going forward. If he’s out, he’ll join fellow injured Buckeyes Nick Oddo, Anthony Greco, Sam Jardine and Jeff Michael on the sidelines.
Ohio State couldn’t score on the resulting five-minute major power play – NMU goaltender Jared Coreau robbed Alex Carlson and Dzingel hit the post on his blocker side – but the opening goal came soon enough.
Ryan Trenz tried to pass the puck to defensive partner Jake Baker in front of the Wildcats’ net, but the pass had no chance and was intercepted by Dzingel in the slot. The OSU sophomore drew Coreau to the side of the net, then slid the puck in front for Statchuk to backhand into the open cage at 8:56.
“I saw him down low, and I’m always going to look pass first,” Dzingel said.
Coreau, who finished with 33 saves, withstood the rest of the assault in the first period – a pad save on a bang-bang shot by Tyler Lundey might have been his best stop – to send the teams to the locker room with the Buckeyes ahead by only one.
“One of our players said as we were walking to the locker room after the first period, ‘That’s Buckeye hockey,’ ” Osiecki said. “Some of the things that we were doing is what we’ve been talking about for three years.”
The Wildcats’ best scoring chance came early in the second when OSU defenseman Brandon Martell pinched up and got beat, allowing Kyle Follmer a breakaway, but Hjelle got a piece of the puck before it clanged the post and bounced away harmlessly.
Hjelle wasn’t bested the rest of the way, as the senior goaltender lowered his CCHA-only goals-against average to 0.32. He has stopped 79 of 80 shots in three conference starts.
“Tonight our team played really well in front of me, and they kept most of the pucks to the outside,” he said. “It was a pretty easy game in that respect.”
Kyle was less than complimentary of his team’s offensive thrust, noting, “We could have played until tomorrow and not scored a goal with some of those guys.”
Ohio State killed two penalties in the second period and then looked comfortable with the lead in the third. They became doubly so when McCormick tallied with 8:07 left in the game to make it 2-0, as he jammed in Tanner Fritz’s pass at the right post on the power play.
The goal moved OSU to 1 for 4 on the power play and gave the Buckeyes a man-up tally in two straight games after they had gone scoreless on the PP in six straight.
The teams will rematch Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Notes: The goal was just the second of Statchuk’s career in the junior’s 56th career game. … Sophomore defenseman Al McLean returned to action after missing three games with an injury. … McCormick led OSU with six shots on goal.