It didn’t take long for Ohio State men’s hockey coach Mark Osiecki to see something he liked out of his Buckeyes on Saturday night.
“Our guys played with a different look in their eye tonight,” Osiecki said. “It was fun to see.”
And thanks to 60 solid minutes of play from his team in Game 2 of a Central Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal series, the third-year head man will get the chance to see if the Buckeyes can bring it again tomorrow night.
With the threat of what has been a bounceback season coming to a close with a loss, Ohio State did what it had to do to keep the campaign alive, beating Ferris State by a 3-1 score at the OSU Ice Rink to push the best-of-three series to a deciding third contest.
“I think we were desperate tonight,” said sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel, who scored perhaps the key goal. “Obviously if we lost, we were out. We played really desperate, backs against the wall, and came out strong. (We’ll do the) same thing tomorrow night.”
Max McCormick had the game winner for the fourth-seeded Buckeyes while Nick Oddo added an empty-netter, and senior goaltender Brady Hjelle was in the form that made him the first-team all-conference goaltender, making 27 saves.
Travis Ouellette had the lone goal for the fifth-seeded Bulldogs, who will also play for their season on Sunday night one year after making the national championship game.
Ohio State (15-16-7) is in its first CCHA quarterfinal in three years and looking to make its first trip to Joe Louis Arena in eight, but FSU head coach Bob Daniels is not surprised to see a deciding game on Sunday night.
“We knew this was going to be a tight series and close,” he said. “I thought Ohio State played really well tonight, I really did. They played a good hockey game, and I don’t think we were poor by any stretch of the imagination. I thought they were really good.”
That was the case after Ouellette got the Bulldogs (16-15-5) on the scoreboard first, turning in Justin Buzzeo’s shot on the power play past Hjelle just 3:31 into the game.
Ohio State got momentum back, though, at 13:22 of the first on another power-play goal as two co-captains hooked up for a beauty. Curtis Gedig split the defense with a pass that sprang Dzingel into the zone alone on a set play, and the forward made no mistake with a shot past C.J. Motte to make it 1-1.
“It was an unbelievable pass, so I was lucky I was in the right place,” Dzingel said after his 15th goal of the season. “We practiced that this week. (Motte) poke-checked me yesterday when I had a little breakaway in tight, so I just thought, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot,’ the whole time.”
That was OSU’s idea for much of the game, throwing 38 shots on goal and peppering Motte throughout the evening, which helped the Buckeyes keep a territorial edge a night after a number of promising chances went for naught as the team tried to do too much on a rough ice surface.
“It’s our strength and it’s our weakness,” Osiecki said. “We have guys that have the ability to score, put pucks on net, have great skills, but we also look to pass way more than we look to shoot and that’s been a constant battle all year.”
But the game-winning goal was simply the result of getting the puck deep late in the second period. Tanner Fritz threw the puck into the zone and McCormick went after it on the forecheck, causing a turnover that he was able to take to the front of the net and slip by Motte at 14:30 for his 15th goal of the year.
“I just forechecked their D-man and the puck got loose,” McCormick said. “I just wrapped it around and it was fortunate to go in.”
With Ohio State ahead, Hjelle did everything he had to do to keep the Buckeyes in that catbird’s seat. He smothered a rebound chance by Cory Kane when it looked to the entire world the Bulldog had a chance to score late in the second, then turned aside a pair of rapid-fire shots by Matthew Kirzinger – who also fired wide of an open net early in the final frame – at the midway point of the third.
“When we needed him to make a save, he made a save and made it look easy,” Osiecki said.
Ohio State was able to put the game to bed from there in the last nine minutes, clinching the victory when Nick Oddo chased down the puck and fired it into an open net with 44.0 seconds to go.
At that point, a third and deciding game was ensured, but picking a winner for that one might be tough. Just ask Daniels, who knows a thing about playoff hockey in his 21 years in charge.
“Looking back, we’ve played four times this year, and if my math is right, it’s 2-2 and the goals for and against are identical,” Daniels said. “It’s probably going to be a pretty close game again tomorrow night.”
Ohio State finished 1 for 2 on the power play while Ferris State was 1 for 3. … Osiecki tinkered with his lineup, replacing forwards Riley Simpson and Chris Crane with Travis Statchuk and Anthony Greco. … Dzingel took what appeared to be an elbow to the head late in the game from Simon Denis, but he did return to the ice. … The last time Ohio State played at home with a trip to The Joe on the line, it was in 2005 vs. Ferris State. The Buckeyes won Game 3 in overtime, 5-4, on a goal by John Dingle.