As the Ohio State men’s hockey team has had trouble scoring goals all season, head coach Mark Osiecki has maintained the balloon keeping the team’s offense under wraps would pop at some point.
That time was Saturday night.
Finally, the goals came easy for the Buckeyes in a 6-1 win against Lake Superior State in front of 3,915 in Value City Arena. The Lakers’ goaltenders provided little more resistance than a cardboard cutout in the opening moments as the Buckeyes built a 4-0 lead in the first six minutes and a 5-0 first-period advantage before cruising home from there.
“We had some things go our way, but our players certainly deserved it,” Osiecki said. “You can say whatever about how the goals went in, but our players have stuck with what we’ve been talking about. They’ve gone through a lot of difficult situations, and they deserved it.”
It looked like the Buckeyes’ luck would be the same as it has been all year – rotten – for a team that entered scoring exactly 2.00 goals per game in its first 25 contests when Tanner Fritz rang the post just 20 seconds in.
Instead, Ohio State simply pushed forward and dominated from there, reaching five goals in a game for the first time all season by the time the initial period was over.
"Coming into the night, we wanted to have the first five minutes and really be on our toes,” Osiecki said. “That first shift, when you hit the post right away, you just don't know. You go, ‘Oh no, is this going to be the same thing? How are the guys going to react?' And we did a great job of sticking with it."
In fact, the Buckeyes still scored on the first shift of the game after Fritz’s near miss, as Alex Szczechura took a pass in the slot and beat goaltender Kevin Murdock to give the home team a 1-0 lead just 43 seconds into the game.
They came fast and furious at that point, and they weren’t necessarily pretty, either. Like a confused second baseman, Murdock waved weakly with his glove at Riley Simpson’s shot from the right-wing boards, as the puck crossed him up and slid by him at the 2:26 mark. That one was bad enough, but it got worst at 4:02 as Szczechura threw one on net from the same spot and watched it trickle through short side to make it 3-0.
At that point, Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque had little choice but to remove Murdock – who gave up the three goals on five shots – and put in Kevin Kapalka, the goaltender who was pulled after giving up the first goal Friday night.
“My two guys have played great all year,” Roque said. “We had a bad night, that’s all I can say.”
But Kapalka could do no better, as he spilled a shorthanded shot by Oddo into the crease for Alex Lippincott to tap into the wide open cage at 5:59.
The Lakers dominated the next few minutes while the Buckeyes wrapped their heads around their good fortune, but OSU goalie Brady Hjelle stood tall until the Buckeyes made it 5-0 at 14:11. This time, Anthony Greco saw his shot knocked down, but the freshman simply swiped the rebound past Kapalka before he could get reset.
By that time, there was little doubt the Buckeyes (10-11-5, 9-6-3-1) would pull five points ahead of the seventh-place Lakers and tie Alaska for the No. 5 spot in the CCHA.
“It’s something that we’ve really emphasized is jumping on teams early,” Szczechura said after OSU outscored the Lakers, 7-1, in the first period on the weekend. “We’ve struggled with that in the past, but I think this weekend we did a pretty good job.”
Boasting a 1.63 goals-against average entering the game that was placed third in the nation, Hjelle made the lead stand up with 30 saves while playing his usual steady game against a Lake Superior State squad that kept throwing things at him.
He was bested only with 2:09 left in the first, as Andrew Dommett’s slap shot from the left point with no one in front barely got between Hjelle’s body and his left arm before trickling over the line.
After a scoreless second period, Roque made the unusual move of pulling his goaltender with a little under 12 minutes left in the third, but Ryan Dzingel put one in the open net shortly thereafter at 8:28 to set the final margin.
Dzingel and Greco finished with a goal and an assist apiece.
Kapalka ended with 33 saves on 35 shots against. The Lakers fell to 13-14-1 overall and 8-11-1-1 in the CCHA.
The Buckeyes last scored five goals last Dec. 2 in a win vs. Lake Superior State. OSU last scored five goals in a period when they did so in the third period of a 5-2 win vs. Miami (Ohio) on Jan. 8, 2011. The Buckeyes hadn’t scored five goals in the first period since a 6-2 win at Alaska on Jan. 31, 2009. … Simpson scored for the second night in a row. He wasn’t supposed to play in the series opener Friday but stepped in when co-captain Travis Statchuk fell ill. … Szczechura now has four goals in his last seven games. … Fritz had two assists to extend his team high in that category to 15. He now has a six-game point streak. … Despite the offensive outburst, OSU’s streak of two consecutive games with a power-play goal came to an end. … Murdock had posted a 4-1-0 record in his last five starts. … Senior Devon Krogh led OSU with a plus-4 rating.