What kind of game was played when the Ohio State men’s hockey team and No. 6 Western Michigan battled Friday night in Value City Arena?
Well, both goaltenders entered boasting goals-against averages below 2.00 – and watched them go down after 65 minutes of play.
In other words, open ice was hard to come by in a playoff-styled war between two squads fighting like mad for position in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings.
In the end, the result between two of the best defensive teams in the league was a 1-1 tie – a fair score given the back and forth. Western Michigan also nabbed the extra point in the conference standings with a shootout win, but Ohio State saw other results go its way as the Buckeyes moved up into a tie for fourth place in the CCHA standings.
“We knew it would be tight and space would be hard to come by,” said Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, the former boss of the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. “It was that type of game. You need to have the all-in mentality with everybody involved at all times.”
Freshman Tyler Lundey had the lone goal for the Buckeyes, while Matt Stewart lit the lamp for the Broncos (18-7-6, 14-5-4-2) with his first career goal. OSU’s Brady Hjelle again earned first star honors with 30 saves; WMU’s Frank Slubowski turned aside 18.
Mike Leone and Mike Cichy scored for the Broncos in the shootout, while Alex Szczechura scored the Buckeye tally in the four-round skills competition. Ohio State fell to 1-8 in its last nine league shootouts going back to the second half of last season.
“I thought that game, two teams competed extremely hard,” Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki said after his team moved to 12-12-7 (11-7-5-1 CCHA).
Ohio State clinched at least eighth place in the CCHA, along with the home-ice advantage in the first round of the league playoffs that comes with it, with the point but bigger things could be ahead.
With five games to go, Ohio State is tied for fourth with Ferris State and is two points ahead of Alaska, and the Buckeyes have two games in hand on each team to give them the inside track on a top-four spot and home ice in the league quarterfinals.
The game dawned with OSU almost gaining positive momentum as Matt Johnson took Ryan Dzingel’s pass and rang the crossbar just 15 seconds in, but it took until the second period for either team to get on the board.
Lundey broke the scoreless tie at 5:58 to complete a pretty transition move. Dzingel gave a sweet drop pass to Max McCormick at the top of the slot, and the latter’s wrister flew over the cage and off the back glass. The rebound caromed back to the side of the net for Lundey to tap in before Slubowski could get back into position.
“I was the center drive there,” said Lundey, who scored his fourth career goal. “I knew the puck was going to the net at one point. Luckily, the boards made a good play. It was a good shot, and we just crashed the net. It’s a random play, but the coaches always let us to know be aware that does happen.”
Hjelle never saw the lone goal to best him, as it came at 14:06 of the second. Stewart put his first tally through a screen from the top of the left circle off a pass from Leone to tie the score.
“I was switching out with (Dennis Brown), so I was lucky he called for a switch there, otherwise he would have the puck instead of me,” said Stewart, a sophomore defenseman. “I was creeping down the middle, and Mike Leone was coming around the net. He made a great pass right through the slot to me, and I put it home. It felt good.”
Ohio State had a great shift – one of many on the night – early in the third in which Johnson shot just wide and Dzingel put a sharp-angle shot on net that seemed to climb over Slubowski into the crease, but somehow the puck stayed out.
The Buckeyes were on their game in the early part of the period, but Murray called his timeout at 4:29 of the period and the Broncos dominated from there. WMU outshot the Buckeyes 14-4 in the last period and overtime, which Murray credited to his team’s physical play.
“We like to play a heavy game,” Murray said. “We try to be hard on the body, we try to be strong on our stick, and we talk to our players about it.”
Ohio State also had to kill two penalties in the third, doing a phenomenal job after Chad Niddery took a tripping penalty with 8:05 to go. The Buckeyes were penned inside their zone for most of the shift and at least three players, including Hjelle, lost or broke sticks for a time, but the Broncos could not convert despite four shots on goal.
“That one was kind of comical,” Osiecki said. “Somehow, we battled through that. (Tanner Fritz) loses a stick, (Darik Angeli) loses a stick, Jell loses a stick. We have a D-man handing Hjelle his stick. It was actually funny.”
Western Michigan finished the game 0 for 5 on the power play despite entering with the most man-advantage goals in the league.
A fairly even overtime period – in which OSU had a power play of its own – went by before the shootout. Szczechura made a nice move to beat Slubowski to the blocker to give OSU a 1-0 lead, but Leone beat Hjelle’s waffleboard to tie it and Cichy posted the winning goal in the fourth round by beating the Buckeye five-hole.