The penalty doesn’t jump out on the score sheet, but it certainly did so in the eyes of Ohio State men’s hockey head coach Mark Osiecki.
With his team ahead 2-1 and on the power play in its Central Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal opener Friday night against Ferris State, Osiecki saw sophomore forward Max McCormick take a slashing penalty behind the play with 7:23 to go in the second period to negate the OSU man advantage.
With that, Ohio State’s momentum – which it had gained with two goals in the first seven minutes of the period – was gone. About a minute later, so was the lead.
“That was a game changer,” Osiecki said. “We have momentum going and we take a penalty off a faceoff. … It was a dumb penalty.”
From there, the defending national runner-up Bulldogs put their stamp on the contest, earning the winning goal early in the third period on the way to a 4-2 win that puts the Buckeyes’ season on life support.
Ohio State now faces a win-or-go-home contest in the best-of-three series Saturday night against the fifth-seeded Bulldogs in the OSU Ice Rink.
“It’s do or die now,” senior defenseman Devon Krogh said. “I don’t think there’s any question that we’re going to come out flying tomorrow night with a fire under our bum because there’s no tomorrow for us.”
Fourth-seeded Ohio State finds itself in good company in the CCHA, as regular-season champion Miami (Ohio) and No. 3 seed Western Michigan also lost at home, but the Buckeyes will need the same effort and more Saturday to keep their hopes of returning to Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2005 alive.
They’ll also need to be more disciplined. The Buckeyes were whistled for seven penalties and allowed a power-play goal along with two tallies as they faced upcoming delayed penalties – which is doubly deflating because of the college rule that a team that allows a goal on a delayed penalty must still serve the time of the infraction.
“The undisciplined side of it we have to correct,” Osiecki said. “That is a choice by individuals. You have to correct that. The other side of it is (Ferris State) played like they have been through these situations, these games. They have playoff experience and showed that, in my opinion.”
Captain Kyle Bonis and Justin DeMartino scored twice each for Ferris State, whose head coach, Bob Daniels, echoed Osiecki’s claim that the two squads – which finished just two points apart in the final league standings – are evenly matched.
“It’s a dead heat,” Daniels said. “It’s really nice to get that first (win), but it doesn’t get you much other than you get one win. It is nice to have that one in the bank, and I wouldn’t have been surprised coming in if we had three games and all three went to overtime. That’s how close I think these two teams are, I really do.”
They were even though 40 minutes, as well, until DeMartino’s second goal of the game. With the referee's arm in the air for a checking from behind call on Krogh, the Bulldogs got the puck to the front of the net and DeMarino capitalized from close range past Brady Hjelle. It was the sixth goal of the season and seventh of his career for the Ferris State junior.
“I keep waiting for him to turn the corner,” Daniels said. “He’s a really good, skilled hockey player who I don’t think realizes how good he could be if he got out of his own way sometimes or maybe just held himself to a higher standard, but what I saw tonight is something I think we can see more often out of him.”
Ohio State pushed from there, outshooting the Bulldogs by a 10-5 margin in the third, but there were never too many grade-A chances to trouble FSU netminder C.J. Motte. The ice conditions at the old OSU Ice Rink didn’t help much, as the bouncing puck wasn’t exactly conducive to offensive creativity.
“It’s an advantage to the team that is up, no doubt,” Osiecki said.
Tanner Fritz, who scored one of the OSU goals along with McCormick, said the Buckeyes will keep that in mind going into Game 2.
“Our coaching staff stressed that need to shoot more, and we didn’t,” Fritz said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to shoot the puck more.”
Bonis potted his 19th of the year into an empty net to set the final margin with 23.9 seconds to play.
The game started as tight as Daniels expected, with the teams parrying at each other until Bonis opened the scoring on the power play at 15:44 of the first. The goal officially went down as a 5-on-4 goal but it was still basically a 4-on-3 as coincidental minors had just come to a close, but Bonis one-timed a pass from Justin Buzzeo at the right faceoff dot past Hjelle short side.
Ohio State came out on fire in the second, though, with McCormick backhanding his 13th goal of the year around Motte just 1:13 into the period to tie the score. Then at 6:55, Fritz – the CCHA’s leading scorer during the regular campaign – crossed up Motte with a power-play shot from the left circle to give OSU the lead.
But less than a minute later, McCormick’s penalty ended another OSU power play, and with the teams skating 4 on 4, DeMartino got behind the Buckeyes defense on a rush and let loose a laser that beat Hjelle under the crossbar at 8:29 of the second.
Alex Szczechura hit the post in the dying moments of the second period, and Ferris State then did what it had to do to push OSU’s postseason losing streak to six. Still, the Buckeye head coach thinks his team will be ready when the teams go back at it Saturday night.
“This team has always responded,” Osiecki said.
Hjelle finished with 18 saves while Motte had 28.