COLUMBUS — Ohio State has notoriously won games this season by gaining a first-goal advantage. The Buckeyes had done so in 11 of their 16 wins prior to Saturday night, emblematic of a team that can hold onto early-game momentum.
Given this, when freshman forward Jack Becker cracked Ohio State’s net first, the Michigan hockey team — who hadn’t seen a single goal Friday night — was provided with a glimpse of hope.
But Saturday, this stat wouldn’t matter. The Buckeyes didn’t score first. However, with another lights-out performance on their home turf, they didn’t need to.
After being neutralized the night before, No. 17 Michigan started strong, but eventually deteriorated. For the second time this season, No. 6 Ohio State (10-5-1-0 Big Ten, 17-5-4 overall) swept the Wolverines (7-9-2-1, 12-12-2), this time handing them a 5-3 defeat.
For Michigan, who had been able to cruise past Minnesota and Penn State in its previous two weekends, the series in Columbus served as a wake-up call of sorts.
“We may have been getting by, and as coaches, we knew that we had to clean some things up,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We got a little bit of a reality check this weekend. Ohio State is a very good hockey team, you can’t take anything away from them, but we made it too easy for them with the goals they scored all weekend.”
The game opened up sloppily, with an absence of smooth passing and urgency evident on both sides of the puck.
Ohio State notched the first man-advantage 4:29 into the first period, as a tripping call sent senior defenseman Sam Piazza to the box. Despite many close opportunities and the fact that the Buckeyes capitalized more often than not on their power play the night before, the Wolverines escaped the penalty unharmed.
And less than three minutes later, Michigan did something it couldn’t all of Friday — find the net. Despite having two Ohio State blueliners wedged between him and the goal, Becker sent a long-range shot straight at the net, passing both the defensemen and Buckeye goaltender Sean Romeo to get the Wolverines on the board.
But Ohio State wouldn’t let this advantage stick for long. Halfway through the period, forward Freddy Gerard successfully tipped the puck in off a rebound, equalizing the game as Value City Arena erupted.
In the final two minutes of the period, Michigan’s first line had a few dangerous chances in the Buckeye zone. However, the Wolverines were unable to capitalize a second time, sending both teams to the locker rooms tied neck-and-neck at 1-1.
Ohio State had no desire to waste time coming out of the intermission. Just 26 seconds into the second period, Gerard broke away from a pack of Michigan defensemen, challenged sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne for the second time of the night, and again sent a blast past the netminder.
Holding a 2-1 lead, the Buckeyes were given the first power play of the second period, with a Wolverine penalty for roughing with 5:48 left in the frame. Michigan fended off the Buckeyes again, allowing just one on-target shot over the stretch.
Unfazed by their deficit, the Wolverines fired again midway through the period. Michigan’s fourth line would find the net for the second time that night, as freshman Dakota Raabe found Niko Porikos right outside the crease, and the senior lit the lamp for his first goal of the season.
And as the game presented a competitive energy completely absent the night before, it was not long before Ohio State’s offense challenged again. Three minutes after Michigan’s goal, Buckeye forward Ronnie Hein fired the puck past Lavigne to gain a 3-2 edge.
With just over three minutes remaining in the second, the back and forth nature of the game quickly came to a halt. Ohio State forward Brendon Kearney found the Wolverine net, widening the gap to two for the largest lead of the night. The Buckeyes demonstrated their offensive depth, with three different lines supplementing the night’s four goals thus far.
“I just did not like our defensive awareness, and our puck management tonight was not good and led to two or three of their goals,” Pearson said. “I wouldn’t say their goals were unearned, we just can’t play like that against a team like Ohio State. We knew how they play and we talked about managing the puck tonight and we just did not do a good job of that.”
Though Michigan was unable to answer, Ohio State incurred an elbowing penalty with 12 seconds remaining in the period, giving the Wolverines their first power play of the game to start the third.
This man-advantage was fruitless for Michigan, as it was shut down by the Buckeyes’ penalty kill — the top in the nation — that boasts an elite .905 average.
Because of this, the Wolverines had been looking anemic on their power play all weekend. Ohio State saw a few close opportunities for short-handed goals Friday night that fell flat, but this would no longer be the case during the second half of Saturday’s third period. With 8:12 dwindling in the game, Buckeye forward Mason Jobst broke away with the puck, evading Lavigne with a short-handed blast, tacking on a fifth Ohio State goal.
The Buckeyes continued their dominance on the penalty kill, preventing Michigan from finding the net while the Wolverines were on a significant two-man advantage.
With 2:30 left on the clock, Michigan attempted a final late-game rally as sophomore forward Jake Slaker scored, bringing the game to 5-3.
“I think I was kind of like, ‘Well, we’ve got two minutes, we could try to get back in this,’ ” Slaker said. “But it was also super frustrating, because it was so late.”
At this point in the game, every Wolverine on the ice exhibited this same frustration. Michigan had just come off two competitive series in which it had claimed all the points. This weekend, it walked away with none.
“Obviously, it’s not good enough,” Porikos said. “Coming in here, leaving with no points, it’s not what we wanted. But it is what it is.”
Added Slaker: “There’s not much to say after a weekend like that.”