Hockey Falls Just Shy Of Big Ten Title

For most of Saturday night, it looked like Ohio State men's hockey would complete its improbable run to the Big Ten championship. But Wisconsin scored twice in less than 30 seconds to tie the score and then tallied in overtime to take a 5-4 in the league's first-ever title game, ending the Buckeyes' season.

Ryan Dzingel was on all fours from not only exhaustion but from the reality of what had just happened Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., at the Big Ten tournament.

Earlier, the junior star forward and his Ohio State teammates were six minutes and 52 seconds away from achieving what most outside the Buckeyes' locker room thought was impossible – win three games in three days, including beating top-ranked Minnesota before the Golden Gophers' passionate following, in order to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Six minutes and 52 seconds. That's how much time remained in the third period when junior Tanner Fritz scored to give the Buckeyes an improbable two-goal lead for the second time in the game against No. 5 Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

But the Badgers followed with a goal 20 seconds later to make it 4-3 and got another 28 seconds after that to force the game to overtime. Wisconsin (24-10-2) didn't have to worry about earning a NCAA berth nor did the Badgers have play a quarterfinal Thursday as the Buckeyes (18-14-5) did because, as the second seed, they received a bye into Friday's semifinal.

With their season's fate hanging in the balance and fatigue creeping in despite all efforts to repel it, the Buckeyes finally succumbed at 7:48 of overtime when Mark Zengerle scored off a scramble to clinch the title for the Badgers, 5-4.

And that's why Dzingel slumped on the ice while the Badgers celebrated at the other end.

"The comments that were shared with Ohio State coaching staff is they had a great run," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "We were in their boots last year. We know what it takes. They were a desperate team. They played their fannies off. They can walk out of this building with their heads held high.

"I think it was interesting you could tell from our opinion as a coaching staff they were the more desperate team early in the game. When we got down 4-2, seems we got desperate, played to a higher level, got the job done in overtime."

OSU first-year coach Steve Rohlik was disappointed but not discouraged by the outcome.

"Well, it's that time of year where one team moves on, one team goes home," he said. "Obviously, unfortunately for us, they got the last shot and scored the big goal there.

"I'm really proud of our guys in the locker room. They emptied the tanks this weekend. They gave it all they had. That's all I ask. It's a big, big step for our program."

That one shot by Zengerle meant the Buckeyes' season was over and the hopes of replicating the 1972 OSU squad that won the first Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament were vanquished.

So too was the chance to duplicate the 2004 team that became the second (and last) from OSU to win the CCHA tourney by winning three games in three days.

In fact, the Buckeyes played more than three games but came up without the prize they fought so hard for. Ohio State had to go 4:23 into overtime Thursday to beat Michigan State for the chance to play Minnesota.

They Buckeyes pulled off the seismic 3-1 upset of the Golden Gophers to set up the rubber match with the Badgers after the teams split home series in the regular season.

Yet, OSU senior defenseman Curtis Gedig said the taxing schedule was not a burden.

"When you're playing for something like this, feels like the first game of the week," he said. "You want it so bad; don't have that as an excuse."

In addition to the goal by Fritz, the Buckeyes also got scores from Dzingel, junior Nick Oddo and shockingly a goal and an assist from seldom-used junior defenseman Clark Cristofoli, who got his first goal as a Buckeye in his 34th career game and only ninth this season.

Freshman goalie Christian Frey stopped 31 shots, including four in overtime.

Jake McCabe, Morgan Zulinick, Jefferson Dahl and Tyler Barnes had the goals in regulation for the Badgers while Joel Rumpel stopped 28 of 32 shots with three of them coming in OT, including an excellent denial of sophomore forward Tyler Lundey.

Dzingel, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegian, scored his 22nd of the season at 4:51 of the first for the lead. He showed speed, strength and skill streaking down the left side before beating Rumpel.

Oddo potted his ninth at 8:56 off a scramble to make it 2-0. Dzingel and freshman Nick Schilkey assisted. Dzingel had the initial shot, Schilkey poked at the rebound and the puck squirted to Oddo in front of the goal.

The Badgers were stunned but ended the period on a high note when McCabe scored the first of two Badgers' goals on the power play (in three tries) at 19:37 of the first to make it 2-0.

Zulinick got the other at 11:24 of the second with an easy rebound to make it 2-2 but the Buckeyes' responded 76 seconds later when junior Max McCormick led the rush and spotted the trailing Cristofoli in the high slot. Oddo also assisted.

The Buckeyes carried the lead into the third period and twice thought they had regained the two-goal lead only to see freshman David Gust robbed twice by Rumpel.

Then at 13:08 the insurance goal the Buckeyes desperately sought came when Fritz put a laser top shelf from the right faceoff circle for his eighth goal with McCormick and Cristofoli picking up helpers.

At that point the Buckeyes could almost reach out and put one arm around the conference's new trophy and maybe the Buckeyes lost concentration because Dahl scored at 13:56 on a rebound and Barnes converted a centering pass to the goalmouth by Nic Kerdiles.

"It's definitely heartbreaking. It was definitely a shock," Gedig said. "But, I mean, it's part of the game. It happens. You just got to step back and prepare yourself for the next shifts."

Although the shots were almost even in overtime the Badgers had more life in their legs and kept possession more than the Buckeyes. They nearly got the winner early when Zulinick hit the post but it didn't matter a few moments later when the Buckeyes were unable to gain control of the puck and had bodies flying around trying to protect the shooting lanes to no avail as Zengerle put the puck away.

"People were whacking at it in the front in the slot," he said. "I made my way around it, got a little bit of wood on it. I still don't know how it went, but it was nice to get that one."

Zengerle was named the most outstanding player and was selected to the all-tourney team along with Frey, OSU freshman defenseman Drew Brevig, Wisconsin defenseman Frankie Simonelli, Dzingel and Wisconsin forward Michael Mersch.

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