Fitting given the way the Ohio State men’s hockey team battled all weekend, Darik Angeli chased down the puck with around 10 seconds to go and pinned it along the end boards, 190 feet or so away from the goal guarded by teammate Brady Hjelle.
With Ohio State holding a 3-2 lead in the dying seconds of a do-or-die Game 3, all Angeli had to do was hold the puck along the wall to assure the Buckeyes of advancing out of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal series victorious.
He did it despite two guys poking and prodding at him to let the puck free. Finally, Angeli relented, turning around and raising his arms in the air in triumph even though a couple of ticks remained on the clock.
It was over. Ohio State is going to the Joe.
The 2-1 series win over fifth-seeded Ferris State assured the fourth-seeded Buckeyes of a trip to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2005 – the longest such drought of any team still in the disbanding CCHA.
Head coach Mark Osiecki is only in his third season, but he knows the importance of the victory for a program that clearly appears to be going the right direction under his tutelage.
“It’s a huge step for our program,” Osiecki said. “We haven’t been there in a while. This team, we’re awfully young and still learning how to play games, how to close a weekend, how to win in general.
“Our guys found a way to stick with it and battle. It wasn’t pretty but we battled. I can’t be more proud of the way the guys were.”
Ohio State (16-16-7) won the last two games of the series to snap what had been a six-game playoff losing streak that stretched to 2010, as only a handful of seniors on the squad had been part of a postseason victory before Saturday night’s series-tying win.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” junior co-captain Curtis Gedig said. “Not only to get the first playoff win as a Buckeye this weekend, to go to the Joe, it’s incredible. Words can’t even describe how I feel.”
The Buckeyes will face second-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday at the home of the Detroit Red Wings as they attempt to put bookends on the CCHA by winning the league's last championship 41 years after capturing the first.
Ohio State played a playoff-type game to get to that point, relying on a suddenly hot power play, a handful of high-flying scorers and Hjelle to knock off the Bulldogs, last year’s national runner-up.
Hjelle made a career-high 47 saves against Ferris State on Sunday night, keeping the high-flying Bulldogs off the board despite 21 shots on goal in the frame. Meanwhile, Max McCormick scored his third goal in the series, Curtis Gedig upped his series point total to five with a goal and a helper and Ryan Dzingel had the first assist on all three tallies tonight.
But the game and series winner went to freshman Anthony Greco, who was a healthy scratch in Friday night’s opener. Just 3:33 into the third, OSU caught the Bulldogs on a line change, as Dzingel fired on goal from the left-wing boards and Greco beat two Ferris State defenders to the puck to put it by C.J. Motte.
“I just know they were changing and we were trying to transition,” Greco said. “I was trying to go to the net hard and he took a shot, and it bounced off I think their D-man and I was just swiping at it, hoping to get something. It worked out.”
From there, OSU kept the Bulldogs at bay, as Hjelle stoned Matthew Kirzinger – a consistent theme for the Ferris senior on the weekend – after Greco’s goal and senior Eric Alexander fired wide with 100 seconds to go.
That was the last big chance, as OSU was able to kill the game from there with the type of team defending that has become the team’s staple throughout the season.
“In the third period, I thought we played as a whole from a team standpoint pretty well, pretty structured,” Osiecki said. “We did a pretty good job of taking care of the puck, a pretty good job in the neutral zone, but in the defensive zone, I thought we were much better in the third. I thought our guys stepped up and played a little bit harder, found a way to block a few more shots and battled hard on the walls.”
While the third ended up going to Ohio State, the first and second frames were all kinds of back and forth. That was especially true of the first, which had enough momentum changes to write a screenplay.
It took the Buckeyes just 1:32 to get on the board, as McCormick scored his 15th tally of the year on the power play after some nifty passing by Tanner Fritz and Dzingel found him alone at the right post.
Soon enough, OSU had an 8-2 edge in shots on goal, but Ferris State had the next 10 – and a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead. Andy Huff turned in a centering pass from captain Kyle Bonis at 13:31 and Cory Kane scored in a scramble 59 seconds later to provide the tallies.
But just when it seemed like Ferris State had all the momentum – “We were awfully quiet on the bench,” Osiecki admitted – the Buckeyes strung together a pair of power plays, converting on the second. Dzingel sprung Gedig free on the left side and the defenseman roofed a shot under the bar, short side, with 1:10 left in the first.
“As a D-man, I don’t get too many,” Gedig said. “To get a timely one like that, it feels awesome. I’m supposed to wheel down the left side there, and it all worked out. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
The second period was almost all Bulldogs, as they held a 21-9 shot advantage in the frame and would have taken the lead were it not for the left pad of Hjelle. The goaltender used the pillow to deny a breakaway by Alexander as well as a power-play chance from the top of the crease by Travis Ouellette, keeping it a 2-all game.
“Honestly, in the first period I didn’t think I played too well, and once I started seeing more rubber I got more comfortable and settled down a bit,” Hjelle said. “I just think this was the most exciting (performance) so far. There was a lot on the line, and our team came to play tonight. We’re going to the Joe, and we’re really excited about it.”
On the other side, Ferris State saw its season end at 16-16-5.
“I was real proud of our guys,” Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels said. “I thought they played an extremely good game. I’m not upset with them or the effort, just the end result.”
Ohio State won its third playoff series in a row at the OSU Ice Rink. … The Buckeyes scored a power-play goal for the sixth game in a row. … OSU improved to 3-6 all-time in Game 3 elimination situations. The Buckeyes had only once previously overturned a 1-0 series deficit to win a series. … OSU defeated Ferris State with a spot at the Joe on the line for the second time in a row, as the Buckeyes defeated the Bulldogs in 2005 on the way to its last trip to Detroit. … McCormick’s point streak is now at nine games, as he has a 7-7-14 line in that span.