At the start of the season, Ohio State men’s hockey coach Mark Osiecki said the Buckeyes would have a fast team capable of getting up and down the ice.
Osiecki finally had that team Friday night. Now, the Buckeyes just have to learn to play that way.
With all of its offensive-minded players finally healthy, the Scarlet and Gray flew around for 60 minutes in front of 3,510 fans in Value City Arena. The problem was the team gave up nearly as many chances as it created, but it didn’t matter in the end as the Buckeyes finished off a 3-2 victory over Lake Superior State.
It certainly wasn’t a perfect win, but it did show what the Buckeyes are capable of doing as they enter the home stretch.
“You’re seeing more of what this team can do,” Osiecki said. “I think at times our transition got us in trouble tonight just because it came back at us. They had their defensemen jumping into the play, a lot of four-man rushes coming back at us, but that’s closer to the hockey that we have the capability to play. I keep telling our guys, our strength is our transition game, our strength is our speed.”
Indeed, the game the Buckeyes and Lakers played was like the firewagon hockey of the 1980s. Each team had its fair share of odd-man rushes and scoring chances, with Ohio State posting a 43-36 edge in the shot count by the end.
Riley Simpson – who wasn’t even supposed to play but entered the lineup when co-captain Travis Statchuk came down ill – tallied along with Curtis Gedig and Tanner Fritz as OSU built a 3-0 lead. The Lakers (13-13-1, 8-10-1-1) battled back but Ohio State held strong in the end to jump the visitors in the league standings into sixth place.
The Buckeyes (9-11-5, 8-6-3-1) won their second game of the season’s second half, doubling last year’s total. After being swept at Northern Michigan last weekend, OSU had won just one of 10 games coming in.
“Last weekend were two games where we played unbelievably well, literally six periods of hockey where you’re going, that’s solid hockey,” Osiecki said. “We didn’t give up much, had a ton of offense, and we come away empty handed. I’d much rather come away with three points and find a way to tweak some things (like we did tonight).”
Both teams also got solid goaltending, as Brady Hjelle made 34 saves in OSU’s winning effort. Kevin Murdock entered after OSU’s first goal and turned aside 36 of 38 efforts sent his way.
“We gave up one bad goal and we lose 3-2. That’s the game,” said Lake State head coach Jim Roque, who pulled starting goalie Kevin Kapalka after just six minutes. “I was happy with our effort. I thought our guys played outstanding. We’re at Ohio State, they just got swept. They’re going to play hard, and we gave ourselves a chance with eight minutes to go. I have no gripes at all.”
It didn’t seem like the game would end as entertaining as it did, as the first few minutes were a dull affair until Simpson lit the lamp at the 6:05 mark. It was pretty simple, as the left wing brought the puck into the zone with speed, walked into the faceoff circle and let go a shot that beat Kapalka short side.
“It was great to see him score,” Osiecki said of Simpson. “Great response from him.”
Roque didn’t wait long to get the hook, going immediately to Murdock, who entered the game with four wins in his last five games and some of the best season stats in the nation.
“That’s a bad goal from a bad angle,” Roque said. “(Kapalka is) deep in the net. He has to be out, he has to be aggressive. I wasn’t going to let him play on his heels there, so I just got him out right away. I think I know Kevin well enough. If he’s not playing aggressive, it’s not good for us.”
Despite the change, Ohio State doubled its advantage on the power play at 17:48. Anthony Greco threw a perfect cross-crease feed to Ryan Dzingel at the right post, but Murdock made a nice side-to-side save with his arm. The goalie couldn’t cover, though, as a mess of bodies arrived in the crease, and Gedig got his stick on the puck to push it across the line in the goalmouth scramble.
“I just got to the net and found a way to tap it in,” the defenseman said. “It wasn’t a snipe, but they count. I think I blacked out. It was just a nice scramble in front of the net, and I just came in swinging. I just felt contact and saw the puck in the back of the net.”
OSU’s third goal was a well-worked bit of passing that ended with Fritz’s marker at 3:39 of the second. Alex Szczechura passed the puck from below the goal line to Fritz at the bottom of the circle, and his shot deflected on its way in as it beat Murdock through the wickets.
Hjelle kept standing tall while the Buckeyes were scoring. He made a trio of excellent power-play stops on Domenic Monardo, one of the top goal scorers in the CCHA, while turning aside breakaways by Stephen Perfetto in the first and Chris Ciotti in the second period.
His luck ran out in the third, though, as the Lakers drew two back in the first 11 minutes of the period. Ciotti got his revenge just 48 seconds into the frame when he potted the rebound of a Dan Radke shot, and Ben Power poked in another second-change opportunity at 10:22 to make it a one-goal game shortly after Monardo rang the crossbar.
“I think we might have let off a bit,” Gedig said. “That shouldn’t happen, but I mean, it seems to happen a lot in hockey. It’s hard to keep that level of play throughout 60 minutes, especially when you get up 3-0.”
Ohio State held firm from there, as Hjelle wasn’t severely tested the rest of the way and the Buckeyes turned the scoring chances back the other way in the last nine minutes.
“You’re going to make mistakes and you’re never going to play a perfect game,” Osiecki said. “It’s, ‘How are you going to overcome any kind of mistakes that are made?’ I thought our guys did a pretty good job of handling the situations where we didn’t make the right decision or something poor happened to us.”
Notes: OSU finished 1 for 2 on the power play with seven shots, while the Lakers were held scoreless on four chances. Ohio State has not given up a power-play goal in the last five games. … Fritz extended his scoring streak to five games. … Gedig has goals in consecutive contests. … The Buckeyes improved to 6-1-1 when scoring three or more goals and 7-3-1 when scoring first. … OSU win its first game of the year in its home white sweaters, improving to 1-2-2.