The only question is if the Buckeyes will be tripping to face Alaska – certainly not a preferred venue – or Lake Superior State. Kyle Bonis scored the game-winning goal with 1:58 to play Friday night to lead Ferris State to a 3-1 win, dooming OSU to a ninth-place finish in the CCHA with the regular season concluded.
"It's a little bit frustrating knowing that we had a chance, we had an opportunity and we didn't make the best of it," senior defenseman Chris Reed said after OSU blew a chance at clinching home ice by getting only one point in two games vs. the Bulldogs. "But like coach just said in the locker room, no one wants to play the underdog, and right now we're the underdog."
OSU will begin the playoffs against the Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., if they lose – either in regulation or a shootout – Saturday night vs. Miami. If Lake Superior State wins, the Buckeyes will trip to Alaska to take on the Nanooks for the second time in three postseasons.
No matter the opponent, the Buckeyes (15-16-4, 10-14-4-2) will have to put memories of this heartbreaker to bed by the time they return to the ice for practice Monday.
"It's a new season on Monday," head coach Mark Osiecki said.
The Buckeyes can only hope so. Ohio State finished the regular season 3-8-3 in their last 14 games after sweeping a top-10 Miami team to start 2011 conference play in January. Ohio State had only 29 goals in those 14 games.
Much was the same Friday night in front of 3,265 in Value City Arena. OSU put only 23 shots on goal against Ferris State netminder Pat Nagle as the Bulldogs, who clinched a first-round CCHA playoff bye, played absolutely stifling defense. Sergio Somma's team-high 19th goal was Ohio State's lone tally.
"We just didn't generate enough offense," Osiecki said. "I thought (Ferris State) did a heck of a job. I thought they were very physical, strong over the puck. Defensively they do a great job packing it in. Obviously their goaltender played very well. They don't give you many opportunities at the net."
Ferris State (17-14-5, 12-12-4-3) saw it much the same way.
"I thought for the most part we were real good defensively," head coach Bob Daniels said. "I thought where we deserved full marks for our defensive was in the third period. I thought the guys did a super job of limiting Ohio State's opportunities."
Alex Szczechura had a good chance for the Buckeyes early but fired the cross-crease pass just wide, and that was mostly it for on offense for the first 50 minutes.
The Buckeyes were just about as good on the other end, though, and when they weren't, Cal Heeter was again spectacular on the way to 31 more saves.
However, things changed at the 8:23 mark of the second period when OSU defenseman Devon Krogh was given a five-minute major and game disqualification – which carries a suspension for the next game – for checking Chad Billins from behind.
Truth be told, the hit probably looked worse than it was – there didn't appear to be malice on Krogh's part – but the referees didn't have much choice other than to call the major penalty given the rules. And with Ohio State already without freshman defenseman Curtis Gedig, who appeared to suffer a leg injury in the first period, the call came at the most inopportune of times.
"You can't overstate that enough," Osiecki said of going down to four defensemen, "especially when you lose probably your best skating defenseman in Curtis and then Dev gets a five-minute (penalty). You're shorthanded back there pretty quick."
Things went from bad to worse only 1:13 into the Ferris State power play when Travis Ouellette scored from the left faceoff dot, firing far post, to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. Ohio State killed off the rest of the major and another minor shortly thereafter, but there was little doubt the Buckeyes were huffing and puffing by the third.
"It's tough to comment on the situation with penalties and referees, but obviously it had a lot of influence on the game both last night and tonight," Osiecki said. "We spent a lot of energy. I thought we did a heck of a job killing penalties."
OSU got a little life with Somma's goal at 10:33 of the third, as he turned Reed's dribbling centering pass through the legs of Nagle from in front.
But Ferris State quickly regained hold of the momentum, and finally neither Heeter nor the goalpost – which made one key save late in the frame – could handle the onslaught as the clock ticked under two minutes. Reed got caught up ice to allow Bonis to skate in along the left-wing boards, approach the net and fire a backhander from close range past Heeter, short side.
"I would like to tell you I'm not (surprised it went in), but I am," Bonis said. "(Aaron Schmit) went to the net and he's such a big guy that he commands a lot of attention. Their D went over and Heeter kind of cheated over too, so I thought if I made a decent shot on net it had a chance to go in, and I was lucky enough that it did."
Ohio State pulled Heeter but Mike Fillinger got an empty-net goal with 51.4 seconds to play to conclude the scoring.
The Buckeyes skated off the ice with down looks on their faces, but there is little time for sulking with the playoffs due to start in one week.
"We might not have showed it this weekend, but we can be a pretty good team at times," junior co-captain Sean Duddy said. "We can be pretty scary. We just have to stay confident. We can make noise in the playoffs."