The Miami (Ohio) sophomore forward scored what hockey aficionados like to call a "garbage goal" with 1:38 remaining in the title game of the Ohio Hockey Classic to give his No. 1-ranked RedHawks a 3-2 win over host Ohio State Sunday night in Value City Arena.
Steffes whacked the puck toward the net from the slot, at which point it deflected off the stick of an Ohio State player and looped over the shoulder of Buckeye freshman goaltender Dustin Carlson to break a 2-2 tie and give Miami the victory in front of 4,087 spectators.
"If you ask Gary Steffes, he shot it right in," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "We were kidding around in the locker room, I think he bounced it in."
The OHC title is Miami's second during the event's four-year history. The RedHawks defeated Ohio State in 2005 to win the title before the Buckeyes returned the favor a year ago.
Steffes' goal undid a solid weekend and equally well-played game for Ohio State. The Buckeyes, now 6-14-2, were dominated in two 5-1 losses to Miami during late October, losses that ignited an 11-game winless streak for OSU. This time around, they stood toe-to-toe with the nation's top-ranked team and nearly came out ahead thanks to goals by freshman Kyle Reed and John Albert.
"There's nothing but positives in the room," said Reed, whose goal was the fifth of his first campaign. "Ranked No. 1 team in the nation and we're playing head-to-head against them for a full 60 minutes. You can hang your head and take away the negatives, but we're happy."
Miami never trailed, using first-period special-teams goals to take a 2-1 lead into the break. It looked like the RedHawks might bury Ohio State early, scoring 5:16 into the game with a man advantage when MU captain Ryan Jones scored from in front off a feed from freshman Carter Camper.
Ohio State showed it would not go away, though. \Reed took a long diagonal pass from freshman Peter Boyd, skated in along the left boards and let go a slap shot that hit the pads of Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and skittered into the net just 57 seconds after Jones' goal.
Miami regained the lead with 14:33 gone in the period when tournament most valuable player Jarod Palmer completed a 2-on-1 with Justin Mercier by roofing the puck over Carlson.
"I don't know what it is about Mercier, but whenever we're out there killing penalties together, I just have a fun time out there," Palmer said.
For the second night in a row, Ohio State went to the break down 2-1 but quickly equalized. Just 2:02 into the period, a Buckeye 3-on-2 led to a goal when team-leading scorer Tommy Goebel set up Albert in the slot, and the Concord, Ohio, native beat Zatkoff by the blocker from the slot.
The teams went back and forth during the final period trading excellent chances. Jones hit the post on a breakaway with 17:14 left, and then Miami defenseman Charlie Fetzer nearly beat Carlson from a sharp angle midway through the period. His chance came after he shot out of the penalty box moments after Ohio State had a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:23 but barely could even set up the power play.
"The 5-on-3 for us was the difference," Ohio State head coach John Markell said. "We had our oldest guys out there and we couldn't get it set up. We literally wasted that opportunity."
Reed nearly scored shorthanded, though, earning a breakaway but firing wildly wide of Zatkoff, then Fetzer hit the post – Miami's fourth shot of the game that rang the iron – from the left point with 9:06 left. Zatkoff also stopped Reed and freshman Sergio Somma with shoulder saves during the final seven minutes.
Finally, Steffes made the game-winning play just as it appeared overtime was in the offing.
Still, as Ohio State readies to restart conference play by hosting Alaska Jan. 4-5 in Value City Arena, there are signs that the Buckeyes, who defeated No. 15 Harvard in the tournament opener, are making progress.
"We're improving," Markell said. "I thought it was one of our better weekends here at home. We could have won the game."
Reed, Palmer and Zatkoff all made the all-tournament team along with Ohio State defenseman Jason DeSantis and two St. Cloud State players, forward Ryan Lasch and defenseman John Swanson. No. 16 St. Cloud State won the consolation game, 4-1, over Harvard thanks to a hat trick by Lasch, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's leading goal scorer. Lasch scored two power-play goals, including the game winner 9:48 into the third period, and an empty-net goal.