So when the Buckeyes trailed 1-0 after two periods despite 28 shots on goal and numerous scoring opportunities, it would have been only natural for OSU to start thinking, "Here we go again."
Instead, the Buckeyes (4-6-1, 3-3-1-1 CCHA) said they were relaxed before coming out for the third.
"I thought our attitude going into the third was as positive as it ever is," junior Hunter Bishop said. "Coach talked about sticking to the process and the goals would come, and they did. They came in a bunch tonight, which was nice."
Did they ever. Ohio State scored four times in the third – netting three goals within a 49-second span early in the frame – to earn a 4-2 win in front of 2,129 home fans. Adding in last weekend's home win against Northern Michigan, the Buckeyes have won consecutive games for the first time all year.
"I thought our guys stayed with the game plan, stuck to the process and didn't get frustrated by what was happening," head coach John Markell said. "They just kept working. We got some payback."
That poise had seemed to be missing in early series-opening game struggles, as many of Markell's quotes throughout the past two weeks were about getting his team to stick to the plan even when things weren't going well. Goal-scoring had also been missing; Ohio State had a combined five goals in five series openers going into Friday night.
It took 40 minutes, but finally the lamp was lit fast and furious behind Western Michigan's Riley Gill in the third. Freshman Paul Kirtland broke the logjam for Ohio State on the power play at 4:50, a goal that was followed quickly by scores from Bishop and senior Mathieu Picard. Co-captain Peter Boyd added an insurance marker late.
Relieved by the sudden scoring output was junior goaltender Dustin Carlson. After winning 21 games a season ago, Carlson earned his first win this campaign by making 19 saves, lowering his goals-against average to 2.36. His teammates centered the postgame, on-ice celebration on him.
"They know how hard I've been battling, and it's good that they're there to support me," Carlson said. "It feels great. I know they're pushing for me and everything. They felt my pain."
Carlson had to wonder, though, if the Buckeyes would ever get one. OSU had numerous good scoring chances while outshooting Western Michigan 12-5 in the first period, including a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush that immediately preceded a Broncos' goal. On that marker, Jared Katz took a feed from freshman Eric Tennyson in the left circle and quickly unleashed a shot that went over Carlson's blocker at 8:37 of the opening frame.
The score stayed 1-0 until Kirtland broke the dam in the third, getting Ohio State's first Friday night goal in more than 150 minutes of game play. Coming out of the penalty box, Kirtland scooped up the puck and broke in along the right boards on the power play before centering a skipping pass that deflected in off a Western Michigan defenseman. Still, the tally stood as the first of the Lenexa, Kan., native's career.
Bishop didn't take long to give OSU the lead, scoring 34 seconds later low glove from the right circle after a drop pass from John Albert. People hadn't retaken their seats when Picard made it 3-1 only 15 seconds later, at 5:39, when he took Patrick Schafer's centering feed low on the left and put the puck through Gill's pads.
"The first one is always the toughest, I guess they say," Bishop said. "After that first one I guess we got a confidence boost. We came out firing on all cylinders and scored a couple of quick ones there."
"That was fun to watch," Carlson said. "I didn't catch the last one, Picard's goal. I was just kind of wandering off – I don't know what I was doing – and all of a sudden we were cheering."
Western Michigan scored on the power play – one second after a two-man advantage ended – with 7:39 to go when Luke Witkowski's shot from the point deflected in, and Greg Squires had two chances to tie about a minute later with close shots that Carlson turned aside
Boyd iced the game with 2:26 to go when he took a loose puck that fell off of Zac Dalpe's stick and scored high from the left slot.
The teams will finish the series Saturday night at 8:05 p.m. in Value City Arena. Those with tickets to the OSU-Iowa football game can take advantage of a buy one, get one free ticket offer for the hockey game.
Notes: Dalpe finished with two assists – he had one on Kirtland's goal – making him the only Ohio State player with more than one point … Tyler Ludwig had the second assist on both Western Michigan tallies … OSU defenseman Shane Sims was plus-2, making him plus-6 over the last two games. … Gill made 34 saves as OSU outshot the Broncos 38-21. … OSU has allowed five even-strength goals in six games, and one of those was an empty-netter. However, the Buckeyes have given up 10 power-play goals in that span.