With a season-high 9,828 fans in Value City Arena and a national television audience watching on the Big Ten Network, it could have been a perfect night for Ohio State hockey.
Instead, the only one who finished the night unblemished was Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick. The senior stopped all 46 Ohio State shots, pitching his seventh career shutout as the No. 15 Wolverines posted a 4-0 victory against the second-ranked Buckeyes.
Still, the 5-7 netminder was surprised at his outing – at least based on the way he warmed up in front of a packed student section in VCA.
"I actually didn't think I had a really good warmup," he said. "I didn't think I was seeing the puck well. I was able to make a few saves and that's key for my game. Once I'm able to settle in and make some saves, I like a lot of shots. I'd rather get 45 than 15 once I get settled in, and it was a good game for myself."
The first-place Buckeyes (14-5-3, 10-4-3-1) certainly obliged – throwing 19 shots on goal in the first period, 14 more in the second and 13 in the third – but Ohio State's flagging offense was unable to light the lamp, allowing Michigan's two first-period goals to stand up until a pair of late empty-net tallies.
"You're going to have those games when it seems like you're throwing everything on net and it's just not going in for you," senior co-captain Sean Duddy said. "We had one of those nights tonight. We have to learn from it, figure out a way to bear down in the next game and come out hard next time."
That next time will be the much-anticipated outdoor Frozen Diamond Faceoff with the Wolverines (13-8-4, 7-6-4-1) on Sunday evening in Cleveland's Progressive Field, but the Buckeyes will go into that matchup having claimed only two of nine possible CCHA points in the last three games while having scored only three goals in that span.
Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki liked what he saw out of the Buckeyes, though, despite flubbing some chances in the opening 20 minutes that seemed easier to make than miss.
"I thought they had a great jump to start," he said. "I thought we played much better. We're slowly getting back to where we were early on. We played much better tonight than we did at Bowling Green on Sunday.
"You have to go through this. This is good for us right now, believe it or not. It stinks to lose, but it's good for us, and we are better (hockey team after tonight). Last time I looked, that's one loss. No big deal – let's move forward and a find a way, and I think our guys have that mentality."
Michigan got first-period tallies from defensemen Lee Moffie and junior A.J. Treais and third-period empty-net scores from Luke Glendening and Alex Guptill.
But it looked like Ohio State would score first, especially behind the play of Alex Szczechura. The sophomore fired just wide after an odd kick off the boards just 1:30 in, then deftly set up Travis Statchuk in front before Hunwick made a big save on the one-timer. Hunwick later stoned Darik Angeli with the glove as the OSU freshman came in on a 2-on-1.
Michigan was then able to start asserting its offense and get the opening score at 10:23. OSU goaltender Cal Heeter kicked Guptill's close shot out to the high slot, but Moffie skated in and fired the puck past Heeter before he could get repositioned.
Michigan doubled the advantage at 18:47, just one second after an OSU penalty expired, as Treais stepped into a one-timer from the left circle and beat Heeter clean.
"I think it was important the way the game started that we capitalized and scored the first goal," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "Shawn made a couple of big saves early, then we finally got one. I have to think we got a little lucky but part of it was we played well. It was a good road game for us."
Ohio State's best chance came in between the two Michigan goals as Ryan Dzingel threaded a cross-crease feed through two Wolverines to Chris Crane at the left post, but somehow Hunwick slid right to make the stop.
After a scoreless second period – in which the best chance included OSU forward Matt Johnson batting a rebound out of the air near the goal line – Buckeye senior Danny Dries tried to pull the Buckeyes even in the third. Hunwick again flashed the leather early in the period to deny Dries then made a shoulder save in front after Dries picked his way through the Michigan defense.
Finally, the gas tank lessened for Ohio State, and Glendening got his empty-net tally at 18:43 and Guptill scored 17 seconds later.