The 12th-ranked Buckeyes, a team dressing eight to 10 freshmen a night, were taught a lesson in their home opener by No. 2 Miami (Ohio). The Ohio State team that defeated Mercyhurst and No. 15 Wisconsin a weekend ago to start the season was nowhere to be found as the bigger, more experienced RedHawks rolled to a 5-1 win in front of 3,477 fans at Value City Arena.
"That was a different team," head coach John Markell said afterward. "I really felt like I wasn't looking at the same team that I saw last Saturday."
The team that had defeated the Badgers, 5-3, for the first time in program history was instead replaced by one that was prone to turnovers, couldn't manufacture dangerous scoring opportunities and went east and west more than it went north and south.
Such are the perils of a young team. The key will now be to see how the Buckeyes (2-1, 0-1 CCHA) respond, starting with a rematch Sunday evening in Oxford, then next week at No. 3 Minnesota and on to the rest of the season.
The RedHawks (3-0, 1-0 CCHA) showed just what the Buckeyes would like to be, using a considerable size, composure and experience advantage to control play.
"This was a tournament team laden with veteran guys that played hungry and anticipated well, played together and played a very good road game," Markell said. "A lot of lessons can be learned from that."
Miami outshot the Buckeyes 33-25, including 24-14 through the first two periods of play to take a 4-1 lead. Junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff was rarely tested on the way to making 24 saves to improve to 3-0.
Oddly enough, it was Ohio State that drew first blood. With the Buckeyes shorthanded, Tom Fritsche forced a turnover in the defensive zone and let linemate Tommy Goebel carry the puck up the ice. Goebel's shot on Zatkoff was stopped but Fritsche roofed the rebound at 3:58 to make it 1-0.
From there, momentum wore only red and white instead of scarlet and gray.
"I'm not sure if we had a letdown or what exactly it was," OSU captain Matt McIlvane said. "They got a couple quick ones on us right after that and I don't feel like we ever recovered from that."
As McIlvane alluded to, Miami responded at 12:45 when Justin Mercier converted a nifty 2-on-1 pass from Tommy Wingels by handcuffing OSU netminder Joseph Palmer five-hole. Then with 1:10 left in the frame, Mercier forced a turnover behind the net, skated to the slot and beat Palmer through a screen.
"Toward the end of the first I thought the game was going back and fourth and evening out a bit, and for sure that was a big goal by Justin," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "It gave us a little bit of life going into the second period."
That life exhibited itself with an early flurry that culminated in a goal 5:57 into the frame. Two poor clearing attempts by OSU bit the Buckeyes in the rear when Alex Martinez's diagonal pass right off one of those blown clears from the left point to the right circle set up Nino Musitelli for his second goal of the campaign.
Wingels then netted at 13:49 with a diving drive from the left circle. In the third, Gary Steffes set the final margin by tipping home a shot by Martinez from the left point with 7:46 to play.
The trademark intensity of the series exhibited itself often throughout the third, culminating when a physical battle in a corner between Miami's Jarod Palmer and OSU's Johann Kroll ended with Palmer head-butting Kroll and both players receiving matching minors.
The return trip to Oxford is sure to bring up more of the same. To be more competitive, Ohio State will need its youngsters to learn on the fly.
"The young guys, they got a rude awakening to college hockey tonight," Markell said. "They're going to be responsible, accept some criticism, and I also have to have them adjust and I think they will. You have to learn under fire right now."
Notes: Fritsche's goal was the first of the season for the Parma, Ohio, native and former second-round NHL draft pick. The senior had just five tallies last year because he played only 19 games while recovering from an intestinal illness. … Palmer made 28 saves and took the loss despite a very good performance. "I thought Joe was stellar," McIlvane said. … For the first time this season, no Buckeye made his playing debut. … Twelve of OSU's 18 penalty minutes were taken by juniors or seniors. … Miami is now 6-3-2 against OSU in the last 11 meetings and is 35-0-1 when scoring four or more goals in the last three seasons. … Miami's penalty kill moved to a perfect 15 for 15 on the year.