As it turned out, the Buckeyes didn't even need to score it.
Sophomore Taylor Stefishen's centering pass deflected off a Denver player and into the net 6:53 into the game, starting an offensive outburst as the Buckeyes beat the No. 3 Pioneers 4-0 at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.
"We needed one of those kinds of goals, one of those fluky, bouncy goals," assistant captain Sergio Somma said. "We thought we deserved one yesterday and (today) we got one and it was a big monkey off our back."
Also gone, for at least one night, is the stigma of opening on a three-game losing streak despite entering the season ranked 17th in the country and boasting a passel of returning letter winners. The Buckeyes (1-3) were even with the Pioneers, who started the season ranked first in the country, last night but lost 2-0; this win produced a different feeling.
"I think a win was huge for us," said sophomore goaltender Cal Heeter, who stopped 39 shots while earning his first career shutout. "Even last night I think we played pretty well and we lost, but we really needed a win to pick our spirits up."
Somma had two assists for the Buckeyes and was joined in a multipoint night by junior forward C.J. Severyn and junior defenseman Shane Sims, who had a goal and a helper apiece.
But there was no bigger star than Heeter, who improved to 2-0 in his career against the Pioneers (2-2). His first career win came in Denver's Magness Arena a season ago, and two of his three career wins have come against DU.
"Let's face it, we had the hot goaltender tonight," OSU head coach John Markell said. "He deserves to play. He proved it tonight. These nonconference games are important, but you have to see what you've got."
Heeter had to be sharp from the opening bell when OSU assistant captain Peter Boyd was assessed a questionable five-minute checking from behind penalty and game misconduct just 34 seconds into the game.
"We thought it was a decent hit," Somma said. "But whatever. Stuff happens. We told him we'll pick him up."
Heeter did it early, making two close range stops on the Denver power play and getting lucky when John Ryder hit the post 4½ minutes into the game. The 6-4 goalie added two point blank saves on first-round NHL draft pick Joe Colborne at the midway point of the first, then stopped Drew Shore's shot from the slot with 3:30 left in the period.
"As a goaltender, personally, I always like to get a few shots in early," Heeter said. "I don't want a breakaway off the faceoff, but a few shots early really helps you get focused in a big game, stay mentally strong."
By his last big save of the first period, the Buckeyes had a 2-0 lead. Stefishen's lucky bounce into the net off the skate of Ryder past DU freshman goalie Adam Murray lifted the lid on the offense, and OSU netted a power-play goal – an elusive creature – at 14:17.
OSU had entered the game just 1 for 22 with the extra man, but Dalpe took a pass from Somma and beat Murray clean from inside the right circle on a rush.
Denver had a goal waved off at 1:44 of the second, and the Buckeyes increased their lead to 3-0 with a shorthanded goal at 10:25. Somma blocked a shot at the blue line, then John Albert took the puck down the right wing before stopping and backhanding a pass to Sims trailing the play. His quick wrister beat Murray's glove from the slot for his second goal of the year.
Ohio State lost defenseman Matt Bartkowski – perhaps its best blueliner – only 2:15 later to a game misconduct because of an after-the-whistle scrum with Denver captain Rhett Rakhshani, but it wouldn't matter. Severyn scored an empty-netter with 3:26 to go and Heeter stood tall late to preserve the shutout.
"They wanted to win," Markell said. "You saw that tonight. That was a team that wanted to win. That's a fun team to coach."
Notes: The Buckeyes hit the road next weekend, beginning Central Collegiate Hockey Association play with a two-game set at Lake Superior State on Oct. 23-24. OSU was picked to finish fourth in the conference … Denver was 0 for 5 on the power play while OSU was 1 for 4 … Murray made 22 saves … Freshman defenseman Devon Krogh assisted on Severyn's empty-net goal, earning him his first career point … OSU's lineup was unchanged from last night save the career debut of freshman Brandon Martell, a defenseman by trade who took Ian Boots' place in the forward lineup. … Bartkowski officially earned 26 minutes in penalties in the game. … Denver played 10 NHL draft picks; OSU had six on the ice.