This weekend is all about The Game, but it's not the only important part of the Ohio State-Michigan…
In the game before The Game, the two rivals got at it on the ice in historic Yost Ice Arena, and Andrew Copp's game-winning goal with 1:22 to play in overtime was the difference as No. 3 Michigan posted a 4-3 victory against the Buckeyes.
It was a fitting start to the start of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, as the teams played an even, entertaining game in front of 5,800 partisans in Yost Ice Arena. But the home Wolverines brushed off the Buckeyes' late tying goal to move to 9-2-1 on the season and end OSU's five-game winning streak.
"I think just the realization that this is the Big Ten," Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said when asked what he'd take from the game. "We are playing Michigan in a great environment. I give credit to our guys. We came out, I thought we played a really good first period. I think they enjoyed the moment. That's what I try to tell these guys – no matter what happens, enjoy the moment. I think we enjoyed it until obviously at the end there."
"If there's something better in college hockey than what you saw tonight – this is incredible."
Ohio State got goals from Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick and a late equalizer from Anthony Greco, while freshman walk-on goalie Logan Davis had a valiant 34-save effort in the loss.
He was unable to make the final stop, though, as Mac Bennett hit Copp on a home-run pass between the two OSU defenseman, and Copp fired past Davis' blocker to light up the old barn that is one of the true gems of the sport.
"We have to take the positive approach about it," OSU junior Tanner Fritz said. "We played a great road game in a hard place to play. You can't take any step back now. You have to refocus and get ready for Monday night."
It was the first Big Ten game for the old rivals, who battled for years in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association but have now joined their familiar Loop rivals in its first year of existence. The game was on Big Ten Network – one of 27 that will be shown by the conference's TV network this season – and was a good first show as prelude to a full Friday night schedule this season.
The teams were never separated by more than one goal, going back and forth in what seemed destined to be a shootout from the opening draw.
"If you can't enjoy a college hockey game in that kind of environment, something's wrong," Rohlik said. "I think our kids emptied the tank. We played hard. There were some chances on both ends, and we just came out on the short end."
It took only 2:51 for Michigan to get on the board, as junior Travis Lynch tallied on a wraparound. But the Buckeyes battled throughout the rest of the period, carrying play at times and tying the score on the power play with 4:14 left. McCormick fed a wide open Dzingel at the top of the right circle, and his blast hit both the post and goaltender Zach Nagelvoort before crossing the line.
The second period was topsy-turvy, end-to-end action, with Michigan taking a 3-2 lead after the 20 minutes of play. Freshman JT Compher gave U-M a 2-1 lead at 6:41 when he put a rebound past Davis on the power play, but the OSU netminder stood strong later in the period on a penalty shot by Evan Allen and a breakaway by senior Derek DeBlois.
That helped turn momentum just when it looked like Michigan would pull away, and OSU responded with another power-play marker at 14:26 when McCormick deflected Alex Szczechura's centering pass through the wickets of Nagelvoort.
But just when it looked like OSU would get to the locker room tied at 2 thanks to Davis' standout effort, the Wolverines took the lead with 16.2 seconds left when Compher won a draw back to Guptill, a third-round draft pick who immediately roofed a laser into the top right corner over Davis' glove.
That looked for most of the third period like it would be the winner, but Ohio State tied the game with 3:13 left in regulation on its best and only chance of the third. Darik Angeli and Fritz forechecked to cause a turnover, and Greco one-timed Fritz's centering pass by the leg of Nagelvoort with a man draped all over him.
"Fritzy is a catalyst, and he made a great play, and give credit to Grecs going to the net there in a tough area," Rohlik said. "We just never quit. We thought we were in the game right to the end if we could get some pucks to that kid, and Grecs went to the tough area and Fritz made a hell of a play."
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, though, all that did was set up Copp's heroics, but the Buckeyes learned a lot about themselves heading into Monday's rematch in Value City Arena.
"You've always got to learn from things, and you have to keep continuing to get better," Rohlik said. "We're going to get better, hopefully, from this. Michigan is a measuring stick. I think our team realized tonight that we can play here, and this is what it's going to be like every night in the Big Ten. It's going to be pretty exciting."