All five Michigan players stood still as the horn blared and fans screamed. The clock read six seconds — tie game.
Giving up any late goal is devastating, but this goal — in Columbus, after a wild emotional game — left junior forward JT Compher with his head down, kneeling in front of his goaltender.
No. 6 Michigan tied Ohio State, 5-5, before losing to the Buckeyes in a shootout Friday night at Value City Arena.
It was tough to swallow for Compher, who had come up big earlier in the game. With 10 minutes gone in the second period and Michigan needing a hero, Compher delivered.
He lined up an Ohio State player along the boards in the defensive zone and clobbered him. It wasn’t clean, but Michigan was in a 3-0 hole and the referees kept the whistles in their pocket.
Tyler Motte, a junior forward, picked up the puck, beating one defender, then two. A toe drag beat the last defender and left Motte all alone in front. Point, aim, fire, and the puck was in the net.
Alex Kile scored 20 seconds later. And Compher wasn’t done yet.
Racine, who had a rocky night in net, surrendered a fourth goal to Ohio State’s David Gust, and Michigan fought the entire third period to respond. With just over two minutes to go, it was Compher behind the net who broke through. He stickhandled, slowly, looking for the pass but instead making a cheeky bank shot off of Tomkins’ back and into the net.
Boo Nieves added a tally off of an opposing skate to put Michigan up one shortly thereafter.
But with six seconds to play, Ohio State won a faceoff in the offensive zone and beat Racine. No team scored in overtime and the game was decided in a shootout.
“They beat us to the loose puck and kicked it out to the guy who was open and should have been covered,” Berenson said. “We put two centermen out there, just in case one of them got tossed out, and it backfired.”
In the first period, Michigan (4-1-2-1 Big Ten, 13-3-2 overall) paired good puck movement with sloppy defending. The Wolverines dominated the possession in the neutral zone, but they had fewer quality looks than the Buckeyes.
Ohio State (1-2-2-2, 6-11-2) played a chippy counterattacking game, using speed to blow past defenders and gain the offensive zone. Stellar individual plays and strong goaltending from senior Steve Racine kept the puck out of the net in the earlygoing — but it wouldn’t last.
The Buckeyes’ John Wiitala put his team on the scoreboard nine minutes into the game on a fluky shot from the point. An Ohio State forward pinned Racine in the left corner of the net, and Michigan’s goaltender couldn’t recover before the shot found twine.
Racine faltered in the second, looking flustered as Buckeye star Anthony Greco took a ferocious line towards the net for a short-handed goal. Wiitala added another, and Michigan was suddenly in a three-goal hole to an Ohio State team that is at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel.
“I thought (Racine’s play) was hot and cold,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson.
But then Motte and Kile scored, and everything changed. Michigan had all the momentum, outshooting the Buckeyes 18-4 in the second period. Kyle Connor blasted a one-timer past Ohio State’s goaltender, Matt Tomkins, just over a minute into the third period.
Just like that, it was a tie game. But the Wolverines couldn’t put the Buckeyes away. Compher scored first in the shootout for Michigan, but Dakota Joshua ultimately won it for the Buckeyes in nine rounds.
“We’ve got to be better from the beginning,” Motte said. “Obviously the D-zone needs some work, and we’ll fine tune that. Some Xs and Os things, but it’s also an attitude thing.”
Compher, who had come up big whenever the Wolverines needed him to, finished with a terrific hit, a game-tying goal, a shootout goal and a loss.