A year ago, the Ohio State ice hockey team opened the best-of-three Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs with a 6-2 win at home over Northern Michigan before dropping the final two games to see its season end.
After a 4-3 win Friday night over the Wildcats at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, Mich., the Buckeyes are in a similar situation.
"I thought we weren't too intimidated by the size of the Olympic-sized sheet of ice because we've had good success on it," associate head coach Casey Jones told WOSU-AM about Northern's 200x100-feet surface. "We skate well, so it was a situation where we thought it might actually benefit us."
Seniors Tommy Goebel and Jason DeSantis freshmen Patrick Schafer and Todd Rudasill scored for 11-seed Ohio State, which used its speed to its advantage and didn't have much trouble with the sixth-seeded Wildcats for most of the game. The Buckeyes never trailed, opening a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, pushing it to 4-1 after two periods and surviving a shaky final four minutes.
Joseph Palmer made 27 saves for the Buckeyes, with Jared Brown, Matt Siddall and T.J. Miller putting the puck behind the Buckeye netminder.
"He was good tonight," Jones said. "For us to have the lead early on there he made a couple of really big saves that give you a chance on the road."
Goebel opened the scoring 6:34 into the game with his team-leading 21st tally only to see Brown equalize with 4:21 to go in the frame on the power play.
But it was mostly Buckeyes from there, as Schafer, a gritty freshman not particularly known for his scoring touch, banged home a rebound at the 18:39 mark.
Ohio State jumped out of the gates in the second period, with DeSantis taking a pass from Goebel and backhanding a shot past NMU goaltender Brian Stewart at the 10:47 mark. Rudasill netted a power play marker, putting home Sergio Somma's rebound, with 6:06 to go in the period for the fourth tally of his first campaign. OSU went into the second intermission with a three-goal lead for the first time all season.
Stewart, who came off the bench last year as a freshman to lead NMU to its upset win over OSU, made 14 saves but spilled rebounds at will.
After a somnambulant third period, NMU raced back during the final four minutes, with Siddall scoring with 3:53 to go by putting in a rebound moments before sliding into the net and Miller scoring 4-on-4 with 1:56 to go and Stewart pulled for an extra attacker.
"If there's anything we did poorly tonight it was managing the clock," Jones said. "I thought we got a little bit too anxious and tried to still pad it when it got inside of six, seven minutes left in the period there with a 4-1 lead."
The net was empty as time ticked down but the Buckeyes killed the final two minutes thanks to stops by Palmer and a few gutsy clearing attempts.
The Buckeyes can finish off the Wildcats and advance to the best-of-three CCHA quarterfinals tomorrow night at 7:35 p.m. at the BEC, with Game 3 set for Sunday at the same time if necessary.