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Ohio State men’s hockey, Michigan split emotionally charged, high-scoring series

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It was a wild weekend for the Ohio State men’s hockey team, where it was goals and more goals against its rival, the Michigan Wolverines. In the home-and-home series, the Buckeyes would tie the first match 5-5 in Columbus, winning 3-2 in the shootout. But, not to be outdone, the Maize and Blue responded Sunday with an 8-6 victory in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

On Friday night, it was quite even through the first few minutes of the opening period in front of the Schottenstein Center’s electric atmosphere, as each team traded shots and saves. Both junior goaltenders — the Buckeyes’ Matt Tomkins and the Wolverines’ Steve Racine — were forced to make a pair of good saves in the early minutes.

The Buckeyes finally cashed in on the initial pressure when freshman forward Mason Jobst put one past Racine at the 10:48 mark. OSU led 1-0 at the conclusion of the first period, outshooting Michigan 18 to 11.

The match’s early energy intensified furthermore in the second period. Senior co-captain and forward Anthony Greco notched his third shorthanded goal of the season, bringing his full tally to nine. OSU then took advantage of a shorthanded Michigan when freshman forward John Wiitala made it 3-0 with 12:56 remaining in the period.  

When the Wolverines finally responded, they did so swiftly, putting the puck past Tomkins in a span of a merely 24 seconds, bringing the score to 3-2 with 5:25 remaining in the second period. Sophomore forward Tyler Motte and junior forward Alex Kile lit the lamp for the Maize and Blue.

The third period looked to be an interesting one, as well, when Michigan grabbed the equalizer on the power play at the 1:19 mark, courtesy of freshman forward Kyle Connor. It was his team-leading 16th goal of the year. But OSU regained the lead with a goal from junior forward David Gust at the 6:54 mark, just as he returned from the penalty box for cross-checking, making the score 4-3.

The Wolverines would equalize again, however, with a goal from their captain, junior forward JT Compher. They took the lead for the first time in the match, less than a minute later, with a goal from senior forward Cristoval “Boo” Nieves.

It looked as if OSU was about to have let a 3-0 lead dissolve into a gut-wrenching loss as the seconds waned.

But, with just 6.9 seconds left on the clock, the Buckeyes leveled the score at 5-5 off a faceoff. It came courtesy of Anthony Greco, who grabbed his second goal of the game and sent the match into overtime.

“It was kind of a gift. We had drawn it up where I’d line up in that position,” Greco said of his game-tying goal. “Their guy just kind of left me, and the puck just seemed to find me.

“All I had to do was put it in the net.”

Overtime ended scoreless, so a shootout would decide the extra point. In the ninth round of shooters, OSU freshman forward Dakota Joshua drifted left but then cut deftly to his right, sliding one past Racine to end the shootout — and the game — 3-2.  Joshua’s game winner was his first goal in scarlet and gray.

“I’m pretty proud of the guys in the room,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “I mean certainly you went from elation to gloom, and to hang in there at the end and score a big goal and then get the extra point in the shootout was huge for us.”

In Game 2 at Yost Ice Arena on Sunday, both teams came out swinging in the first period.

Freshman forward Brendan Warren opened the scoring for the Wolverines with only 1:45 off the clock. OSU responded when Michigan native Dakota Joshua would put one past Racine, knotting it up 1-1. However, Motte would retake the lead for Michigan just 36 seconds later, thanks to a no-look pass from Kyle Conner. Yet again, the resilient Buckeyes had an answer when senior forward Tyler Lundey lit the lamp with 6:20 remaining in the period.

The Scarlet and Gray would take advantage of a power play early in the second period when Gust was left wide open by the Wolverines’ defense. He made them pay, putting OSU in the lead for the first time Sunday with 1:17 off the clock. Freshman defensemen Sasha LaRocque would double the Buckeyes’ lead a little more than three minutes later with a long shot through a screen.

Connor, though, would once again strike for the Wolverines, cutting their deficit to 4-3 with 12:58 left in the period. Both sides continued to fire shots off, but both Tomkins and Racine kept making some spectacular saves.

Both teams would then take advantage of power plays. Jobst restored the two-goal lead with a little over a minute left in the second period. But then, it was deja vu for the Buckeyes when just under two minutes into the third period, Michigan found the back of the night twice, leveling the score 5-5.

The Wolverines scored on a 5-on-3 advantage, courtesy of another Connor goal, and again on 5-on-4 after Motte’s second goal of the game. Motte would complete his hat trick less than two minutes later, bringing the score to 7-5. Sophomore forward Dexter Dancs would then double Michigan’s lead at the 9:34 mark.

Michigan would put the game to rest when Compher put the puck into an empty Buckeyes net with 2:45 remaining, putting the score at 8-5. Sophomore forward Kevin Millar would score a consolation goal for the Buckeyes with 16 seconds left. The rivalry boiled over following the final whistle when both teams scuffled on the ice.

OSU is scheduled to continues its Big Ten slate Friday against Penn State on the ice at the Schott. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

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