This one wasn’t about the NCAA tournament – the Buckeyes will have to try to win their way into that at the Big Ten tournament in two weeks.
This was about 60 minutes. Senior Night in Value City Arena. And it was special.
Ohio State scored the last four goals, including the only three third-period tallies, to beat No. 15 Minnesota on Saturday night by a 5-2 score in front of 6,177 fans.
“It’s an awesome feeling, something that I’ll remember and cherish down the road,” senior Tanner Fritz said after assisting on an empty-net goal and then tossing one in himself. “I can look back on this and be proud of what I’ve done her and what all of our seniors have done here. I think that’s what we deserved, but it’s not done now.”
As Fritz indicated, there is a bigger picture for the Buckeyes (12-18-2, 7-11-0-0). The win was the team’s fifth in its last eight games as it comes down the stretch, and Ohio State can further its momentum at last-place Wisconsin to close the regular season next weekend before the conference tourney in Detroit.
But really, this night was about seniors Fritz, fellow forwards Darik Angeli, Chad Niddery, Nick Oddo and Matt Johnson as well as defensemen Clark Cristofoli, Al McLean and Justin DaSilva. All but Oddo, who was injured Friday night, were inserted into the lineup by head coach Steve Rohlik and combined for two goals and four assists and were a combined plus-9, with Johnson finishing plus-4.
More importantly, they were able to celebrate a victory with “Carmen Ohio” one last night in Value City Arena before retiring to the locker room for a team celebration.
“I think we felt it in there in the locker room,” Rohlik said. “I think the guys after the game – it was emotional here at home, lots of family here, and you go into the locker room and you kind of enjoy that moment. I guess as coaches, that’s truly what it’s all about, to be able to walk in that room and you see the guys and you see the raw emotion. That’s pretty special.”
A night after chasing the game all night in a 4-2 loss to the Golden Gophers, Ohio State was the better team in this one. Ohio State outshot the Gophers by a 32-24 margin – including 8-3 in the first and 13-8 in the third – and kept a Minnesota team operating near 30 percent on the power play to an 0-for-2 mark. The Buckeyes also had some breakaways stoned by Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, who turned aside 27 shots.
“I thought tonight we just played an overall better game from start to finish, one of our most complete games of the year,” Rohlik said. “We understood what team we played tonight. That is a talented hockey team, and we just had to stick with the way we needed to play.”
But Ohio State’s Christian Frey got some help from his posts and had 22 saves of his own, and the Buckeyes were better in their own zone in this one, giving up just eight total shot attempts in the first period.
They left that frame with a 1-0 lead as sophomore Nick Schilkey started the scoring 8:54 in with a nifty backhand just under the bar off the rebound of a shot by Angeli that Wilcox had kicked back into the slot.
Minnesota (19-12-3, 10-5-3-0) countered with two goals in the first 5:09 of the second off the sticks of Taylor Cammarata and Vinni Lettieri before OSU finished the scoring. The Buckeyes tied the game at 8:07 of the third on a delayed penalty call as Johnson found the rebound of a shot by Cristofoli, flipped it from backhand to forehand at the left post and snuck it through Wilcox.
Junior defenseman Craig Dalrymple got the winner 5:42 into the third, taking a pass from Luke Stork at the top of the zone with space and firing a shot past the blocker of Wilcox. It was Dalrymple’s second goal of the weekend.
“I don’t really know what to tell you,” said Dalrymple, who is rounding back into form after missing nearly a year because of injury. “You want to put pucks toward the net. Last night I popped one in, Tonight it somehow found my stick, and before I even knew it, it was in the back of the net.”
OSU finished the game efficiently, with Fritz feeding junior Anthony Greco for the first empty-net goal with 1:02 to play and adding his own in the final seconds.
“You can’t script a book any better than what happened tonight,” Rohlik said. “You’re led by eight pretty quality young men. I give credit to the rest of the team because it takes all 27 guys to get it done, and all 27 guys jumped on board tonight and everybody wanted to do it for these guys but more importantly for the program.”