COLUMBUS – To Michigan fans who are used to games at a frenzied Yost Ice Arena, the crowd at Ohio State’s Value City Arena probably wouldn’t be particularly impressive, and when the fans go around the rink yelling, “Ohio (with each section shouting a letter),” it wouldn’t do much more than display the Buckeyes fans’ spelling ability.
But Ohio State forward Paul Caponigri thought the crowd “was great. When they started doing the O-H-I-O around, it felt like I was at a football game. It was great. I hadn’t experienced that.”
Clearly, Columbus isn’t a hockey town.
And the Michigan-Ohio State matchup on the ice isn’t yet a rivalry comparable to the one the two schools share on the gridiron.
But it’s getting there.
While Michigan State is the premier opponent for Michigan, and the one the players relish most, this weekend went a long way toward building an icy rivalry between the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
Friday’s game was full of momentum swings and comebacks – each team saw a two-goal lead disappear – complete with a goal at literally the last possible second of regulation. The final minute of the third period was about as exciting as hockey gets – total chaos in the Buckeyes’ zone, as the Wolverines made a mad scramble to salvage the game. Saturday, the Buckeyes seemingly clawed back from a two-goal deficit in the third period, only to have the tying goal waved off by the officials because it was kicked in. Then they tied it for real minutes later.
It was one of the most entertaining two-game series of Michigan’s season.
The games didn’t quite have that extra intensity and desperation of a meeting between archrivals, and the focus was on playoff positioning, not on the tradition of Michigan vs. Ohio State.
By the time the Michigan and Ohio State hockey teams started playing each other regularly, their football counterparts had reached the height of their rivalry – the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler era – and they have not often been at equal talent levels.
But this weekend, the Buckeyes and Wolverines were jostling for a No. 2 seed in the CCHA Tournament, and signs of a passionate rivalry waiting to develop were evident.
The called-back Ohio State goal Saturday that would have tied the game and Andrew Ebbett’s goal that stole away an impending Ohio State victory at 19:59 of Friday’s third period are sure to linger in the Buckeyes’ memories. Without those two plays, Ohio State likely would have swept Michigan and bumped it to third place in the league.
Saturday’s game featured a physical third period, with bodies colliding in the neutral zone. On one of those collisions, Caponigri and Michigan sophomore Michael Woodford met knee-to-knee, and the Buckeye was left writhing in pain on the ice while the Wolverine skated away. In an altercation at the end of the game, both players earned a 10-minute misconduct.
But while a one-on-one matchup like that might have produced bad blood had it happened in the football rivalry, Caponigri didn’t show much ire afterward. When a reporter asked him if Woodford’s hit was a cheap shot, he declined to stir things up.
If the players haven’t yet developed an extreme distaste for each other, the fans have started to. Although the Value City crowd wasn’t much for chants, the games did draw more than 25,000 people combined on the weekend, and the Buckeyes’ fans showed that familiar anti-Michigan hatred at times. They harshly booed a young Michigan fan who caught a stray puck on Friday and a group of kids in Michigan garb who appeared on the giant screen on Saturday.
Ohio State has played tough games against Michigan in past seasons, only to fall back into the bottom of the conference and become an easy opponent the following year. But the Buckeyes finished third in the conference this year and if they can sustain that level of play, the matchup could quickly develop into a heated rivalry.
One worthy of Woody and Bo.
Courtney Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.