COLUMBUS – The Ohio State faithful were elated. As the clock ticked down towards zero on Friday night, their Buckeyes held a 4-3 advantage over hated Michigan and seemed poised to secure a big win in a big game. The fans were on their feet, jackets in hand, ready to leave the building with a victory.
But the Wolverines would have none of that.
Somehow, the team remained optimistic. And with goalie Al Montoya pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Michigan found some openings.
“For some reason, it felt like we were going to get one there in the end,” defenseman Brandon Rogers said. “For the last minute, we had pretty good sustained pressure in their zone, and we kept getting the puck through to the net and just missing.”
A Jeff Tambellini shot even dribbled past Ohio State goalie Mike Betz, missing the post by mere inches. Most importantly, Michigan managed to keep the puck in the Buckeyes’ zone and away from its own empty net. With 17.7 seconds left, the Wolverines earned a faceoff to the left of Betz for what would probably be their last chance to tie it.
“The faceoff was set up but there was a mistake made,” Ohio State coach John Markell said. “We actually won the draw, but we had nobody going to it.”
With Michigan controlling the puck off the faceoff, a melee of players packed in front of the net. The Ohio State fans held their breath and prayed for the final buzzer to end the game.
Rogers’ initial shot was blocked, but a rebound bounced to forward Andrew Ebbett. Somehow the freshman’s shot found a seam and the top of the net.
Everyone in the building looked up to the scoreboard to see if somehow it had gone in too late. But one second still remained.
“You can play a good, solid game and all of a sudden a bounce goes the other way, and they got it,” Markell said.
With the tie, Michigan clinched a second seed in the CCHA Tournament. But with Ferris State’s win at Bowling Green on the same night, the Bulldogs locked down the conference title.
The big picture: Both Markell and Michigan coach Red Berenson were concerned about placing for the CCHA Tournament this weekend. But getting into the NCAA Tournament remained a concern and that played a role in the way that they coached.
Late in Friday’s overtime, Markell considered pulling his goalie to go for the win. A tie would have ended his team’s hope of second place.
“I thought he would pull the goalie,” Berenson said. “It’s a big game. That point is important to both teams.”
But Markell’s concern for what a loss would do to his team in the rankings won out. He decided that pulling Betz too early wasn’t worth the risk, waiting until there were three seconds left in overtime to make the move.
“I didn’t think a loss would help us at all in the big picture,” Markell said. “Obviously, we were trying to get second place, but you have to look at the big picture as well.”
No nets: On March 16 of last year, a shot by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Espen Knutsen struck and killed 13-year-old fan Brittanie Cecil. The NHL responded by making nets above the boards behind the goal mandatory in all league arenas.
Across town, at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, nets are not required by the NCAA and none have been raised. An official with the school’s athletic department did say that the boards have been built two feet higher than is required to provide safety.
On Saturday, a number of stray pucks did go flying into the stands, including one sharp Ohio State slap shot at 15:25 of the second period.