COLUMBUS — The Big Ten semifinal had all of the ingredients for a classic showdown. There was an NHL arena, a streaking Michigan team and a consistently powerful Buckeye offense that has managed to prevail in all four of the teams’ matchups this season.
The No. 11 Wolverines (11-11-3 Big Ten, 20-14-3 overall) — coming off a late-season push — had the chance to claim a win over the only Big Ten team they hadn’t been able to topple to date.
With neither team finding the advantage in regulation, it would take a wrist shot from Ohio State center Matthew Weis in overtime to lock the win, 3-2.
“We won’t find many teams better than Ohio State,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “So, I think we can really take some positives from this game. We’re not happy about the outcome, but we’re happy with some of the things we did in the game.”
At the outset of the game’s highly-anticipated faceoff, it wasn’t entirely clear which team would assert the upper hand.
“We knew what we had to do coming in,” said senior right wing Tony Calderone. “We had to get pucks behind them and get their defensemen working.”
The Wolverines let loose the first six shots of the game, and while they successfully claimed the momentum early, it would be the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (15-8-2, 24-8-5) that would go on to counter those early efforts, outshooting Michigan 35-31.
After a called-off goal due to a delayed penalty around seven minutes into play that saw Ohio State forward John Wiitala punch the puck past sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, it was evident that Ohio State was starting to flex its touted high-output offense.
Buckeye forwards Mason Jobst — who has a team-leading 41 points — Brendon Kearney and Wiitala spearheaded the aforementioned early pressure, producing numerous gasps from the crowd as Lavigne’s saves were seemingly too close for comfort.
And with 3:58 remaining in the first period, Ohio State defenseman Gordi Myer blasted the puck up and over Lavigne’s glove on the man advantage to take first blood, showing off why the Buckeyes’ power play is ranked eighth in the nation.
But while their stat sheet at the end of the first would suggest complete dominance, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes drove down the ice halfway through the period and loosed a wristshot that ricocheted off the post, proving that the Wolverines were within reach of slipping one past Sean Romero.
Michigan spent the first ten minutes of the second period relentlessly chipping away at the Ohio State defense, and its efforts finally yielded fruit thanks to a diving Cooper Marody who patted a loose puck down and flipped it past Romero.
The junior center’s equalizer clearly helped change the tide of the game, completely reversing the trend in momentum that was formerly in the Buckeyes’ favor.
But just as the Wolverines could have ridden a scoring wave to take the upper hand, Calderone committed a holding penalty that saw a subsequent onslaught of shots from Jobst and others, which Lavigne barely staved off.
Hughes, along with senior left wing Dexter Dancs and the rest of the Wolverines’ attacking arm, continued applying pressure to the stalwart Buckeye defense at the outset of the third period, but Romero and his back line kept shrugging off shots and cross-ice passes with ease.
“(Hughes is) worth the price of admission,” Pearson said. “It was one of those games, he had a couple post, crossbar, one of those goes in it could change the outcome of the game because it came down to one shot.”
And with four penalties to Ohio State’s one — the most recent being a holding-the-stick call on Hughes — Buckeye center Dakota Joshua made Michigan pay on the power play with a deflection over Lavigne’s head to give them a 2-1 lead.
Ohio State’s euphoria was short-lived, though, as Marody graciously spun through the slot on the man advantage, slipping the puck right past Romero’s left blocker to tie the game at two apiece.
But in the end, Wies found the back of the net for the Buckeyes. They upheld their winning streak against the Wolverines and earned a place in the Big Ten Tournament final.