COLUMBUS — The Michigan hockey team came into Friday’s matchup against No. 6 Ohio State with all the momentum in world. Consecutive sweeps against then-No. 9 Minnesota and then-No. 12 Penn State resulted in a surging Wolverines team trying to knock off a Buckeye squad that had won seven of their last eight games.
With two of the hottest teams in the Big Ten facing off, one would have to bow out to the other. And it was No. 17 Michigan’s (7-8-2-1 Big Ten, 12-11-2 overall) four-game winning streak that came to a screeching halt, losing to Ohio State (9-5-1-0, 16-5-4), 4-0.
The Wolverines came out of the gates with a methodical pace of play, outmatching the energy of the home team. Throughout the first period, Michigan calmly and decisively squashed Buckeye chances, exited its own defensive zone and crashed the net on the offensive attack — putting pucks on goal early.
The Wolverines racked up six shots in less than five minutes of play and outshot Ohio State eight to three halfway through the period. Five minutes into regulation, Michigan was given its first power play opportunity of the evening after a holding call against forward Mason Jobst. But Buckeye goaltender Sean Romero stood tall in the net and made two key saves to keep the game scoreless.
The Wolverines would go on to outshoot Ohio State, 32-20, but couldn’t get past Romero for all 60 minutes — the sixth time this season Michigan outshot its opponent in a loss.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson believes the inability to convert stemmed from trying to be too fancy with the puck and not having bodies in front of the net to capitalize on loose rebounds.
“I thought it was a defensive struggle tonight,” Pearson said. “Sure, we had 30-something shots, but I think when we go back and look at the game, we had very few ‘grade-A’ chances and definitely not many second looks. We didn’t do a good job of getting to the net or creating the ‘grade-A’ chances that we needed.
“It was a frustrating night.”
With 3:20 to go in the opening frame, Ohio State found the opening it needed. Following a blocked shot off the stick of junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi, the Buckeyes broke out of their own zone with a perfectly-timed stretch pass from blueline to blueline, developing a two-on-one advantage. And Ohio State — which has averaged 3.62 goals per game over its last eight — wouldn’t put the odd-man rush to waste.
Forward Kevin Miller fired a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net — past the stick of sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne — to put the Buckeyes up, 1-0.
With 55 seconds remaining in the first stanza, forward Matthew Weis was assessed a hooking penalty and the Wolverines were again on the power play, which carried over to start the second. However, 26 seconds into the period, freshman forward Josh Norris was called for tripping, swiftly washing out another chance.
Both routine and acrobatic saves from Romero during the ensuing four-on-four play and continuously through the second period kept Michigan searching for that elusive first goal. On the other end of the ice, Lavigne matched his counterpart, making quality stops — including a handful while sprawling from the crease — to conserve the one-goal deficit.
Ohio State’s lethal penalty kill, which has stopped a nation’s-best 90.1 percent of opponent power play opportunities, continued to make quick work of Michigan’s power play in the third. During all four Wolverine chances, an outside observer would’ve thought Ohio State was on the man advantage, outworking Michigan in scrums down low and creating a flurry of shorthanded opportunities on the counterattack — resulting in an 0-for-4 stat-line for the visitors.
“We’ve got to be better on the power play,” Pearson said. “I think that’s an area that we talked a little bit about before the weekend, that that was going to be critical here. They scored on their power plays and obviously, we didn’t.”
Just under three minutes to go in the second, senior forward Dexter Dancs was called for holding and the nation’s eighth-ranked power play was back on the ice. The Buckeye unit — who has converted on 40.9 percent of their power play opportunities in the past five games — would score with the man advantage for the sixth straight contest, going 2-for-3 on the night.
With 1:24 left in the period, the puck was tapped back to a trailing forward Tanner Laczynski, whose shot from in between the circles flew past Lavigne to double Ohio State’s lead.
And with the Buckeyes entering the series undefeated this season — 10-0-2 — when scoring first, the game seemed to be too far out of reach for Michigan at that point.
“We played from behind,” Pearson said. “They’re a team that you don’t want to play from behind against. They just sit on it, play defensively, and wait for you to make some mistakes and capitalize.”
And that’s exactly what Ohio State did. Less than four minutes into the third period, Jobst squeezed past a Wolverine defender at the blueline and had a one-on-one showdown against Lavigne. A small hesitation gave the forward a wide-open net and a backhand goal past the Michigan goaltender for the third Buckeye goal.
“We probably had more odd-numbered rushes against tonight than we’ve had in the previous four games combined,” Pearson said. “We’ve got to clean that up, we’ve got to manage the puck better and I thought we didn’t do a great job doing that tonight.”
The bleeding would continue five minutes later, on another Ohio State power play, when forward Dakota Joshua tipped in a shot from the point to increase the Buckeyes’ lead to four.
In a game between two of the biggest heavyweights in the Big Ten, Ohio State delivered the knockout blow in round one of the weekend series.