At the conclusion of finals week – one so in-depth at Miami that the RedHawks had players finishing up their tests Friday morning – the teams renewed what continues to be a passionate rivalry with the BSB Ohio Cup on the line in Value City Arena.
"It's tough," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "These guys are student-athletes. These are college athletes. We probably shouldn't be playing this week. It just happens the schedule worked out that way, but these guys go through a lot. We couldn't leave (Oxford) until 1:30. We had guys running into the locker room to pack their bags. You could just tell the stress on their faces."
The two teams' exam on the ice was to measure themselves against one another, a fitting test given the back-and-forth nature of the in-state series over more than three decades. On that front, two of the top four teams in the CCHA battled through exam legs, a soft ice surface and each other on the way to a 1-1 tie in front of a season-high 4,345 in Value City Arena.
Afterward, the fifth-ranked RedHawks won the three-round shootout to claim the extra point in the CCHA standings, but neither team was in the mood to talk much about shootouts. Instead, the focus was a taut, intense and defensive-minded game that still featured plenty of outstanding goaltending.
"Coaches hate shootouts because it's a false sense if you win, and if you lose it's a false sense, guys walk away thinking they lost," OSU head coach Mark Osiecki said. "Would you like to gain the extra point? Yes, but it was a well-played hockey game. There were some chances both ways, some great scoring opportunities for both teams. Both teams competed hard. It had to have been fun to watch."
Indeed it was, especially as the body blows turned from literal to figurative in the third period. After two scoreless frames thanks to the stellar goaltending of Ohio State's Brady Hjelle and Miami's Jay Williams, Devon Krogh gave OSU a third-period lead before Curtis McKenzie equalized.
Austin Czarnik scored the only goal of the shootout to give Miami the extra point in the standings.
"I think for 65 minutes, both teams left it all on the ice," Blasi said. "They worked hard. They had their chances, we had their chances, both goalies played great – just a typical rivalry game with Ohio State. It's always a battle. It's fun to play in. The nerves are there. It's exciting."
The physical nature was there from the very beginning, and neither gave the other team much time and space in the offensive zone as the game was on edge from the very beginning. That was good for the Buckeyes, who faced off with Czarnik and Riley Barber, the top scoring players in the league coming in.
Miami (10-3-4, 7-3-3-3) started with the better of the play – Dublin native Sean Kuraly nearly scored on a rebound in the first few minutes – but Ohio State ended the first with 10 shots on goal to the RedHawks' five.
But the visitors went about changing that early in the second, peppering Hjelle – who finished with 28 saves – with shots. He had to make a diving save, going to his left, to stone Barber just seconds into the frame, then stopped Marc Hagel on a half-breakaway and watched Alex Wideman hit the post all within the first minute.
The Buckeyes (7-5-5, 6-2-3-1) then started to get their own chances – none better than Max McCormick's wrister late in the frame on the power play that Williams gloved dramatically for one of his 22 saves – as the frame went on, setting up the third period.
Krogh struck 3:52 into the frame, taking a loose puck at the hashmark along the right-wing boards and letting go a slap shot that snuck between Williams' left arm and his body, a tally the freshman netminder would like to have back.
"I had a lot of time," Krogh said after his second goal in as many games. "It's one of those games, low-scoring, you just put pucks on net. It worked out."
Ohio State couldn't hold the lead, though, as Krogh was in the box with one of just two Buckeye penalties when the RedHawks tied the score with 7:17 left. McKenzie got loose in the slot, took a pass from Barber and beat Hjelle short side with a one-timer.
Hjelle stood on his head the rest of the way, though, shepherding the Buckeyes to overtime with a series of excellent saves on Matthew Caito, Wideman and Alex Gacek.
After a scoreless overtime, Czarnik's roofed shot was enough to earn Miami the shootout win after Alex Szczechura, Riley Simpson and Ryan Dzingel were all stopped by Williams.
Still, Osiecki was happy with his team's reaction while going against one of the best teams in the nation.
"I'm proud of our guys, they way they competed, especially against a top-ranked team," Osiecki said.
Ohio State now has five points in three games of Ohio Cup play, with Bowling Green and Miami knotted at two. The teams will meet again Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Value City Arena.
"It stings, but at the same time, you have to keep it in perspective that it's really a tie," said Hjelle, who has now given up only three goals in six Friday night conference games. "You just have to be ready for tomorrow."