The home opener is supposed to be a night for hope, but the Ohio State men’s hockey team is just trying to survive adversity early in its 2012-13 campaign.
Three more players were banged up – one potentially seriously – as the Buckeyes began the home slate Friday night vs. Alaska after six games on the road, and the young team’s struggling power play continues to be the elephant in the room.
Despite those issues, the Buckeyes were able to gut out a 1-1 tie with the Nanooks in front of 3,604 in Value City Arena, then capture the shootout to earn the extra point in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings.
“We’ve had to battle through a lot of injuries and adversity,” head coach Mark Osiecki said. “I think with the guys, it’s almost matter of fact. I think this is a tough character group in the locker room.”
With the tie, Ohio State (2-2-3, 1-0-2-1) stayed undefeated in league play with six points in three games.
“It’s still a tie nationally,” Osiecki said. “Like we told our guys, ‘Ties don’t hurt you. Ties actually help you, so keep on fighting the battle and we’ll continue to improve.’ ”
Max McCormick scored OSU’s lone goal in the first 65 minutes, while Ryan Dzingel and Riley Simpson – two players who missed time in the third period thanks to injuries suffered – tallied in the six-round shootout. Senior goaltender Brady Hjelle allowed only one tally in the skills competition and also stopped 34 shots in regulation.
Ohio State might have lost forward Anthony Greco for a while. The freshman suffered an apparent leg injury while the Buckeyes were on the power play in the second period and left the ice without putting any weight on his right leg before going straight down the tunnel to the OSU dressing room. Osiecki said he was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
The Buckeyes were already without sophomore forward Nick Oddo and sophomore defenseman Al McLean because of injuries, but experienced blue liners Curtis Gedig and Devon Krogh returned from injury to form a shutdown pair.
But despite the 1-1 score, there was a fair bit of flair to the proceedings. Ohio State finished with 34 shots on goal while the Nanooks had 35, and the helter-skelter affair wasn’t pretty but did feature enough open ice for the teams to generate chances only to be denied by the calm, outstanding play of both Hjelle and Alaska freshman John Keeney.
Both were really good early, too, as the game was back-and-forth in the first few minutes. Alaska’s Jarret Granberg and OSU’s Alex Lippincott had open chances from inside the faceoff dots early, while Keeney’s glove save on McCormick’s shot from the left circle midway through the first was the best denial of the opening stanza.
“I thought he played really well,” Alaska head coach Dallas Ferguson said of his team’s netminder after he played in just his second career game. “We wanted to give him an opportunity because I don’t think it’s been his performance that’s kept him out of the net.”
On the other side, Osiecki was just as happy with Hjelle, who has allowed only two goals in his last three starts.
“Going into it after two weeks off, he had a couple of big saves early, tough saves, and calmed everyone down,” the head coach said.
After a scoreless opening period, Alaska was the first to make an impact on the scoreboard. The Nanooks (4-3-2, 2-2-1-0) had the jump early in the second period, earning an extended 5-on-3 advantage that culminated in the opening goal at 5:05. Colton Beck found freshman defenseman Colton Parayko sneaking in backside and fed him cross-crease for the shot past Hjelle’s left pad for his third goal of the season.
But Ohio State clawed back into the game using its swift transition game to test the Nanooks defense, then finally got the goal it needed just 15 seconds into the third on a breakout. Gedig fed McCormick going forward, and the OSU sophomore wristed one over Keeney for his second goal of the season.
“It was the first shift, and Geds was skating the puck up the ice he flipped it in the air,” McCormick said. “I just kept skating and it bounced right in front of me. (Tanner Fritz) had a great drive to the net, which opened up the ice for me, and I just put it on net and it was fortunate to go in. We wanted to start the third period with a good shift, and to score was awesome.”
Ohio State had chances to earn the game winner in the third period but the team’s balky power play couldn’t get it done. The Buckeyes had both a four-minute power play and a five-minute man advantage but could not score on seven shots in that span, and OSU went 0 for 8 on the day to extend its scoreless power-play streak to 32 chances and six games.
“It’s kind of like the monkey on your back,” Osiecki said. “We had opportunities and it didn’t happen. We liked certain things that happened on the power play and we had some looks at it, and all of a sudden it doesn’t bounce your way and now you start trying to squeeze (your stick) more. You see the stat sheet and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s awful.’ It’s not. It’s coming.”
In fairness, the power-play struggles bore some similarities to the team’s overall scoring issues as a young team that hasn’t played together much continues to build chemistry in the offensive end.
That much should come, though, and Ohio State showed some individual offensive skill in the shootout. Simpson began it by beating Keeney with a snipe to the blocker side, but Hjelle was quickly bested by Tyler Morley with a nice deke. From there, the teams traded saves and missed chances until Dzingel ended the six-round affair with a shot past Keeney when the goaltender went for a poke check.
The teams play again Saturday night at 7:05.