Different arena, but a similar result.
After 56 days of being on the road, the Ohio State men’s hockey team returned to the Schottenstein Center on Friday night to play against the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (13-7-0, 5-1-0). The Buckeyes (7-11-2, 2-4-0) couldn’t make it any closer than four goals by the final whistle, losing to the Wolverines, 10-6.
With only 17 skaters and sophomore goaltender Matt Tomkins in net for the injury-depleted Buckeyes, OSU took the ice against the No. 1 offense in college hockey.
After the Wolverines took an early two-goal lead from senior forward Zach Hyman in the first period, OSU lost yet another player. Sophomore forward David Gust received five-minute major with contact-to-the-head and game misconduct penalties, ejecting him from the game.
Amid the five minute power play, Buckeye junior forward Anthony Greco scored to make it a one-goal game.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Greco’s momentum was not enough as the Wolverines scored two more times in the first.
Fourteen seconds into the second period, the Buckeyes found themselves in a four-goal deficit as Michigan’s junior forward Andrew Copp quickly scored on Tomkins. The Buckeyes began to play with a little desperation as senior Matt Johnson scored for the Buckeyes to bring the score to 5-2.
Michigan scored again before Buckeye freshman forward Matthew Weis deflected a shot from Johnson into the goal, to keep the game at a three-point deficit. The Wolverines scored once again. making it 7-3 going into the third.
Both teams scored three times in the third, with the Buckeyes taking an aggressive stance. After the Wolverines pulled ahead of OSU, 8-3, at the start of the third period, sophomore goaltender Logan Davis entered the net for the Buckeyes.
Davis, who has seen the ice seven times for OSU, with four of those games being against the Wolverines, was quickly tested, and stopped a penalty shot from Hyman.
The third period proved to be the momentum shift for the Buckeyes, with Greco leading the pack.
Greco scored his second goal of the night off a pass from senior captain Tanner Fritz at 8:26 in the third period. And just six seconds later, Greco did it again, granting himself the hat-trick and making the score 8-5.
Greco’s hat-trick goal came off a set play between him and freshman defenseman Victor Bjorkung.
As Greco set up for the faceoff against the Wolverines at the left wing position, he quickly switched with Bjorkung, allowing Greco the ability to skate fast right to the net.
“We actually do that play quite a bit, they (the coaches) like me coming up the middle and using my speed to catch the other team off guard,” Greco said.
“I was just trying to play my game, I’m out there to skate as fast as I can and get pucks to the net,” Greco said about his second three-goal night this season.
“I just wanted to be out on the ice as much as possible to keep the momentum going, I couldn’t get to the faceoff circle any quicker … I just wanted to keep playing and get as many goals as possible.”
Greco leads the Buckeyes with 12 goals so far this season and is the first Buckeye since 1998 with two hat tricks in one season. He is first in the NCAA with four unassisted goals and has a point in six of his last eight games.
“I really wanted this to be my breakout year,” Greco said regarding his performance this season. “I think I have consistently improved but there was a lot that I needed to prove to myself and the coaches.”
After ending last season with 15 points (five goals and 10 assists) Greco looked to leave a lasting impression his junior year.
“This year is the most important year of my hockey career and I just needed to make a statement for myself.” Greco said. “I’m just gonna keep improving each day and play to my strengths. I just need to stay mentally prepared and make sure I’m doing my part no matter what the situation is.”
Friday night’s game also showcased newly appointed assistant captain Matt Johnson. Continuing with the momentum from Greco’s back-to-back goals, Johnson scored his second goal of the night to make the game 8-6.
Johnson received his second career three-point game with two goals and an assist. Johnson is second on the team in goals with 10 so far this season.
The senior forward said he didn’t really change up his strategy when approaching the team’s 2015 return. Johnson joked, “I didn’t really change anything, during break I went home, had a lot of mom’s cooking and things just started to click for me.”
The Wolverines outshot the Buckeyes 39-37, with OSU shooting 18 times in the final two periods.
Coach Steve Rohlik talked about how he thought the Buckeyes played with a lot of resilience in the third.
“They gave it everything they had.” Rohlik said. “That’s the positive I’m going to continue to build on because that’s the energy we have to play with … not try to fall behind by four or five goals and then play that way.”
“We obviously didn’t get off to the best start,” Greco said. “And we never really regained our momentum; it was kind of just back and forth the whole game.
When asked whether the injuries made any difference to the team’s play, Johnson said: “We talked about it in the locker room, saying that injuries shouldn’t affect how we play. We’ve been preaching the next man up lately and it’s unfortunate that we have so many injuries and sickness, but that’s gonna happen … it shouldn’t be an excuse as to why they (Wolverines) were able to score 10 goals on us. We know its unacceptable.”
As OSU moves forward in Big Ten play by traveling to East Lansing, Mich., this weekend, Johnson said the team’s main focus is going to be on its d-zone.
“This week is gonna be all about d-zone; we have to figure out where our breakdowns were” Johnson said. “So now it becomes we need to take pride in our d-zone… we have to take it shift-by-shift and correct the things we can going into the Michigan State series.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on Michigan State on Friday at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m.