Columbus, Ohio — The fifth time was not the charm.
After losing all four regular-season contests against No. 6 Ohio State (24-8-5), the No. 11 Michigan hockey team (20-14-3) was unable to quell the Buckeyes’ lethal defense, falling 3-2 in overtime of the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Saturday night.
Matthew Weis scored 32 seconds into overtime to win it for Ohio State, which advances to play No. 4 Notre Dame in the Big Ten championship game next Saturday (8 p.m., BTN).
“We knew this wasn’t going to be a pretty game,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They don’t play a pretty style. They have guys back, they clog it up, you’re not going to get any outnumbered rushes. It’s a grimy game and we knew we had to grind it out.
“And then they get a break here or there, that’s the way they play. They build on defense, they’re not going to go out there and fill (the stat sheet) like they have the last couple of years. They changed their philosophy and it worked for them. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.”
What became a see-saw battle found the Wolverines controlling puck possession and firing five shots on goal in the game’s first five minutes. Though keeping the Buckeyes shot-less until the five-minute mark, Ohio State eventually found its rhythm, outshooting Michigan, 13-3, for the rest of the period.
Less than 10 minutes into the frame, the Buckeyes committed a turnover in the neutral zone, leaving Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes alone with the puck and a one-on-one matchup against goaltender Sean Romeo. But the freshman’s wrist shot was calmly turned aside and the game remained scoreless. Three minutes later, another laser from Hughes was denied — this time by the right post to preserve the stalemate.
With 12:42 to go in the first, Michigan junior forward Brendan Warren was called for hooking, handing the Buckeyes their first power play of the evening. Two quality saves from sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, swift clears from the defensive zone and a handful of blocked shots turned back the Buckeyes.
But the nation’s fourth-best man advantage unit wouldn’t lose out to the Michigan penalty kill twice.
Eight minutes later, Michigan junior forward Cooper Marody committed a hooking penalty and, at the 3:58 mark, defenseman Gordi Myer’s slapshot from behind the left circle flew past heavy traffic in the crease and above the outstretched glove of Lavigne. Ohio State would maintain the 1-0 lead entering the first intermission.
The second period opened with even play, as both goaltenders stifled offensive threats.
Finally, more than halfway through the second, Michigan found its opening. After maintaining offensive pressure with three shots on net in a minute’s span, another Hughes’ rifle off the post led to a loose rebound in the crease.
The Wolverines made sure to capitalize on the rare Romero mistake. Marody caught the puck in the air, placed it at his feet and, while falling, flipped a wobbler past the Buckeye netminder to tie the game at one apiece.
The third period began with a Hughes’ holding penalty, Michigan’s fourth of the game. One minute later, the Ohio State power play was back at it again, when a shot from the point was redirected off three skaters — the last being Buckeye forward Dakota Joshua, who angled it past Lavigne to regain the one-goal advantage.
But Marody wouldn’t let the Ohio State lead last. Seven seconds into a Wolverines’ power play, he glided into the slot, spun around and rifled the puck past Romero’s left pad for the equalizer with 12:33 remaining.
The period continued with uninterrupted play as both goaltenders made key saves — 32 in regulation for Lavigne and 27 for Romero — to send the game to overtime.
Just 32 seconds into the extra session, a Buckeye pass found Weis streaking into the slot for a wrist shot that beat Lavigne five-hole for the winner, dashing Michigan’s hopes to return to the Big Ten finals.
“It was one of those unfortunate things where they had a rush and the guy made a great play, and there’s not much you can do on that,” Marody said. “We’ve got to eliminate those rushes and that’s something that we’ll look into and improve on to have success in the NCAA Tournament.”
Despite the loss, Pearson took the game as a valuable chance to learn about facets of his team’s game that need improvement. He cited penalty kills, forechecks and power plays as areas that will be stressed in practice this week while waiting for a likely NCAA Tournament berth next Sunday.
“Obviously, much improved from the last time we played them … I think that we can really take some positives from this game,” Pearson said. “We’re not happy about the outcome, but we’re happy with some of the things we did in the game and we’re going to look to build on those, improve on those and get better in some areas.”
Benjamin Katz is a freelance writer.