In the blink of an eye, a dream can be lost.
With a Big Ten Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Ohio State men’s hockey team saw its dreams snatched away by the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday.
OSU coach Steve Rohlik emphasized the thin margin between success and failure after the game.
“Well, it’s that time of year where one team moves on, one team goes home,” Rohlik said in a released statement. “Obviously, unfortunately for us, they got the last shot and scored the big goal there.”
The big goal was off a rebound stuffed home by Badger senior forward Mark Zengerle after redshirt-freshman forward Morgan Zulinick hit the post as Wisconsin clinched the Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes (18-14-5, 6-10-5) end the first-ever Big Ten season as the conference tournament runners up, while the Badgers (24-10-2, 14-6-1) continue on to the national tournament as conference champs.
The Buckeyes scored first, 4:51 into the game when junior forward Ryan Dzingel pushed the puck up the wall before skating in on Badger junior goalie Joel Rumpel and scored his second goal in as many games.
Just 4:05 later, the Buckeyes doubled their advantage.
Dzingel took a shot from high in the slot, and, after freshman forward Nick Schilkey had his rebound saved, junior Nick Oddo was there to score his ninth goal of the season.
An interference penalty on freshman defenseman Drew Brevig gave Wisconsin the first power play of the game, and the Badgers capitalized through a point shot from junior defenseman Jake McCabe with 23 seconds left in the first period.
Neither team had a clear shot in the second period until Wisconsin sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles suddenly broke in behind the OSU defense and had his attempt stopped by Frey.
OSU sophomore forward Tyler Lundey took a boarding penalty 9:46 into the second, and with 22 seconds left in the power play, Zulinick was first to react to a rebound by Frey to tie the game.
But less than a minute later, the Buckeyes took the lead right back.
Junior forward Max McCormick led a three-on-two break, and waited until the last moment to lay the puck off to junior defenseman Clark Cristofoli who found the net for his first collegiate goal.
The beginning of the third period didn’t bring much excitement, but an incredible 48-second stretch changed all that.
First, it was the Buckeyes on the attack. Junior forward Tanner Fritz skated into the zone and shook off a defenseman with a shot fake before zipping a drive past the Rumpel’s glove. The Buckeyes had all the momentum, but it only lasted 20 seconds.
Wisconsin senior forward Jefferson Dahl swept in a rebound and then 28 seconds later, his teammate and fellow senior forward Tyler Barnes connected on a pass in front to erase the Buckeyes’ two-goal lead in the blink of an eye.
OSU senior defenseman Curtis Gedig said the incredible turnaround was “heartbreaking.”
“It was definitely a shock. But, I mean, it’s part of the game. It happens,” Gedig said. “You just got to step back and prepare yourself for the next shifts.”
The score line held for the rest of regulation, meaning the first Big Ten hockey championship was decided in overtime, where Zengerle finished the comeback.
The Buckeyes, in Rohlik’s first season as coach, finish the year with 18 wins, their highest total since 2008-09.
“I’m really proud of our guys in the locker room. They emptied the tanks this weekend. They gave it all they had. That’s all I ask,” Rohlik said. “It’s a big, big step for our program.”