"First of all, that was a pretty good college hockey game, wasn't it?" the coach of second-ranked Miami (Ohio) said.
There had to be little dissent from the season-high 8,906 in attendance to see in-state rivals battle on a Senior Night in which the Ohio State men's hockey team honored Mathieu Picard. With the Buckeyes needing a point to clinch home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, fans of each team showed up en masse and were treated to up-and-down hockey that was both tense and intense.
The result was a 0-0 tie – the first ever in Ohio State's 47-year hockey history – followed by a 2-0 Buckeye win in the shootout for the extra point in the league standings.
By the time the shootout came around, the Buckeyes had clinched eighth place and home ice thanks to other results, but the roars when OSU scored its two goals were the same. It's a shame many in the crowd won't fit into the 800-seat OSU Ice Rink next weekend when the Buckeyes host ninth-place Notre Dame in a three-game series, but Ohio State was content with the result that sent them into the postseason on a high note.
"It was excellent tonight," said OSU goaltender Dustin Carlson, who made 38 saves and two more in the shootout. "The fans were tonight and just the whole atmosphere – I feel like it's a win, not a tie."
Sergio Somma and Peter Boyd scored in the shootout for the Buckeyes, setting off a celebration that made it seem like the team had just won a playoff series. That will come next – Ohio State finished the regular season 12-16-6 (10-12-6-4 CCHA), while Miami ended it 24-5-7 with a league record of 21-2-5-2 to run away with the conference championship.
But the teams were mostly even on a cold, snowy night in Ohio's capital. The RedHawks won the shot battle 38-24 and had the better of possession, but the Buckeye defense was on the ball and Carlson was simply outstanding. No one would have expected a game without a goal considering the CCHA's top two league point scorers – OSU's Zac Dalpe and Miami senior Jarod Palmer – entering the contest were on the ice, but Carlson and Miami's Connor Knapp were game.
"At points we were flat-footed, but I thought Dusty had a good game," head coach John Markell said. "I thought Miami came to play, too. It was a good goaltending duel. I thought both teams made mistakes, but their goaltenders were there for them."
Despite the scoreless final – just the third in Miami's history and the first scoreless regulation for OSU since a playoff loss against Ferris State in 2005 – there was plenty of drama to be had.
Heck, just two minutes into the game Carlson denied Pat Cannone's rebound chance, starting a theme of excellent goaltending. The rest of the period had it all – Miami's Tommy Wingels tipped a pass wide of an open net on the power play, Somma saw his own deflection go wide and the final minutes of the period had a donnybrook that involved Carlson dragging away Miami's Matt Tomassoni from the pile.
A night after Boyd said OSU played without the necessary fire, the Buckeyes made four lineup changes and the intensity was on display from the opening whistle.
"We faltered sometimes, but I think we played a consistent game," Boyd said. "We had guys blocking shots, making sacrifices. I think (Shane Sims) had eight blocks tonight. When they weren't there, Dusty was making big saves. I think it was a group, team effort, and that's what we need to do from here on in."
There were more great chances in the second. Miami's Justin Vaive shot high on a breakaway, then fed Cannone for a how-did-he-do-that? stop by Carlson after recollecting the puck. The goalie turned aside Carter Camper later in the period, and Somma had another close in chance by himself that slipped off his stick but still trickled under Knapp only to slide just wide.
It looked like the firewagon would be restarted in the third when Miami's Cameron Schilling hit the post just minutes in on the power play, but the physical defense being played by each team started limiting the scoring chances. The intensity didn't ebb, though, as OSU's John Albert and Miami's Curtis McKenzie spent the shootout in the penalty box following a scrum at the final whistle of overtime.
The skills competition belonged to some familiar subjects for the Buckeyes. After a scoreless first round, Somma tallied when his five-hole shot rode up Knapp's pad and slid into the net. Boyd then earned his second straight shootout winner with a shot past Knapp's blocker.
"I was just trying to get him to move a little bit," Boyd said, "and I was fortunate he did."
At that point, Carlson raced to meet the fist-pumping Boyd the blue line, soon to be followed by the rest of the squad. It was fitting Carlson got there first; his stops on Palmer and Camper gave him three straight shootout wins and 11 consecutive shootout saves, and he played perhaps his best game as a Buckeye.
"At the drop of the puck, I just knew I was into it right away," he said after setting a season high for saves. "I was just right on everything. My team really stepped up tonight. Our D has a much better night than last night clearing out the front."
The Buckeyes' final salute to the band and full student section seemed to have more oomph than usual after the emotional win. Now, it's back to the old rink, where OSU downed Bowling Green a season ago.