After 60 listless and lackluster minutes, Alaska skated off the Value City Arena ice with a 4-1 victory over the Buckeyes, but there wasn't much to say about this one.
Both teams played solid defense, with UA making the most of its few offensive chances. The only thing memorable about the contest was the performance of Alaska freshman Andy Taranto, who potted the school's first hat trick since December 2006.
The loss was nearly disastrous for Ohio State (11-15-3, 9-11-3-1), which stays in 10th place in the league and lost points on nearly all of its closest competitors. The Buckeyes – who got a goal from sophomore Cory Schneider – are now four points behind eighth place for the last home-ice spot in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Suddenly, the 4-1 start to the 2010 calendar year seems far in the rearview mirror. In the last four, OSU is 0-2-2 and lost both shootouts to garner only two league points.
"It was totally out of character for what we've been playing like since the break," dejected OSU head coach John Markell said. "We chose to do it in a situation like this. It's not very smart on our kids' part."
Despite 34 shots on goal to UA's 21, the Buckeye offense never looked threatening after averaging 4.1 goals per contest in the previous eight games. Schneider – a gritty defensive forward who had played in only one of the last five games – led the team with six shots, and the power play was fruitless in three chances to see its nine-game scoring streak snapped.
The top line of captains Sergio Somma, Zac Dalpe and Peter Boyd never clicked, and the second group of Hunter Bishop, John Albert and C.J. Severyn was barely noticeable, going minus-5 with only five shots on net.
"We just didn't do a good job of sustaining shift after shift," Markell said. "I need my top two lines doing that. I need them being threats on the ice, and they weren't threats on the ice when they were out there."
Other than Taranto, the stars of the show were the Nanooks' defenders and goaltender Scott Greenham. The top defensive pairing of sophomores Joe Sova and Aaron Gens was outstanding other than Sova's gifting of a goal to Schneider, while the rest of the hard-checking defensive unit was solid and UA's forwards cleared pucks and took away space.
"I credit our whole defensive corps," head coach Dallas Ferguson said. "Gens and Sova I thought did a decent job defending and making sure they were in good position with everybody, but as a group I thought our defense played well just being aware and being in the right positions."
Greenham, meanwhile, was more than impressive. The sophomore turned aside a cutting Albert within the first minute on the third period, and he was peppered on a power play midway through the frame including an impressive blocker save on Dalpe from the right side.
"It was just one of those games where I felt good in pregame skate and everything," Greenham said. "I felt mentally ready to go."
Suffice it to say, no one on the Ohio State side had that same opinion.
"We didn't have a lot of energy on the bench," said Somma, who watched his and Boyd's seven-game point streaks come to a close. "It was pretty flat. We can't sit here and dwell on it because we have to come out and play again tomorrow. We have a short time to figure this out. We have to have emotional desperation, not panic."
Despite a national television audience on the Big Ten Network, the game was hardly worth watching from nearly the opening puck drop. The first 3:29 ticked away before a whistle was blown but the puck spent most of its time in the neutral zone, a sign of things to come.
The game appeared to have life when the teams traded goals within 1:04 of each other late in the first. Matt Bartkowski's turnover against UA's first line allowed Taranto to take a pass from Dustin Sather on a rush and beat Cal Heeter over the glove at 14:51, but Schneider claimed the goal back when he went to check Sova before instead taking the puck, advancing on Greenham and trickling a backhander through his five-hole.
Just as quickly, flow petered out, and Taranto made it 2-1 only 4:15 into the second with a power-play slap shot from the left circle that went in off of Heeter's blocker. Seconds after a UA power play ended, junior defenseman Bryant Molle doubled the advantage 10 minutes later with his second career goal, a wrister through traffic from the blue line.
Taranto completed the hat trick at 19:05 of the third with an empty-net goal set up from a pass by Dion Knelsen.
"It was very unselfish," said a reserved Taranto, who upped his first-year goal total to 12. "It was unselfish play by everyone tonight."
Ohio State and the Nanooks will meet again Saturday night at 7.
"I know we can fight better," Markell said. "I fully expect Alaska to play hard. We have to get back on the horst. We fell off of it today. We have to get back up and get going here."