Ohio State made its 4-1 win over Nebraska-Omaha look easy, and UNO head coach Mike Kemp knew why.
“I don’t think we came out with any kind of enthusiasm at all.”
R.J. Umberger picked up where he left off one week ago by notching the first two goals of the game, including the game winner, as the Buckeyes outshot the Mavericks, 42-15, in the first of four regular-season contests between the clustermates.
Paul Caponigri and Dave Steckel added goals for OSU. Micah Sanford’s sixth tally of the season spoiled Mike Betz’s midway through the third, and Dan Ellis put on a spectacular show in a losing effort with 38 saves, 17 of which came in the second period.
Said Kemp, “Certainly when you’re playing a team with the capability of this team, with the talent level of this team, if you’re going to play back on your heels … and not come out with the kind of fire that you need to come out with, you’re going to end up with the result that we ended up with — being dominated and being totally outplayed.”
Umberger’s first goal of the game on the power play at 11:25 in the first period gave OSU a 1-0 lead after one. On the Buckeyes’ fifth shot of the night, Umberger found the UNO cage midway up on the right side, between Ellis and the pipe, after the Buckeye power play systematically closed the proverbial envelope. Miguel Laflech and Caponigri were credited with the assists on a typical collapse-the-envelope man advantage.
Umberger struck again early in the second, picking up Ryan Kessler’s rebound and tucking it in behind Ellis high and clean on the right side at 1:01, and the middle stanza ended with a 2-0 Buckeye lead in spite of OSU’s 17 shots on goal and 35 shots attempted in the second.
Sanford’s goal from just to the right of the Buckeye net brought the Mavs to within one at the half-way mark of the third, but Caponigri went coast-to-coast at 14:46 to make it 3-1, and Steckel stole the puck in the UNO zone and top-shelfed it at 19:25 to cap the game.
“I thought we generated some good scoring chances,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “We were kind of looking at each other thinking that maybe we could score a couple more goals.
“It’s a two-game series, and you want to make sure that you don’t want to give them anything to give them any kind of momentum going.”
The tide could have turned in UNO’s favor had it not been for a Betz save in the third period, when Dan Hacker shot from point-blank range; Betz put his shoulder in the way and the puck careened harmlessly up and over the OSU net.
The Mavericks may have expected the Buckeyes to offer up a few UNO power plays, as OSU is the most penalized team in the league, but the Bucks stayed out of the box until the third period.
When asked how he compensated for the lack of special teams play — there five penalties total for 10 minutes — Kemp said, “I’ll tell you how we compensated for it: they had the puck the whole night.
“When you’re on the offense all night, when you have control of the puck, then you’re going to be in a situation where they’re not going to be in a position to take penalties.”
When J.B. Bittner and Caponigri each spent two minutes in lockdown in the third, 10 minutes apart, the Mavericks did generate a little momentum to challenge the Buckeyes at the end.
“Certainly we didn’t get anything going, and they did a great job through neutral ice stemming the tide and creating turnovers,” said Kemp. “We didn’t really good job … of getting the puck deep, and certainly when we did get it deep, their D did a great job of holding people up and transitioning the puck back up ice.
“They were excellent tonight.”
Maverick co-captain Greg Zanon echoed his coach’s sentiments about the level of UNO intensity. “We just played awful. I can’t finger point it. We just weren’t around tonight, and I don’t know why.
“Ellis played really well, and so did Betz. It’s too bad we couldn’t put a few more shots on him to challenge him more.”
It wasn’t just UNO that came out flat. The Buckeyes looked tentative until Umberger broke the ice with his first goal.
“It doesn’t matter what their record is,” said Betz, “how they’ve been playing lately, we know that when these two teams get together, it’s going to be a dogfight all night.”
“This is a pretty competitive series with these guys,” said Markell. “We didn’t want to give them any kind of edge, so we were posturing a little bit.”
“We’ve got a bit of a history with this team,” said Caponigri, “starting with our class. That was quite an experience.”
At the end of the 2000-01 season, when the class that includes Umberger, Caponigri, Steckel, Scott May, and Betz, OSU traveled to Omaha to play a memorable three-game, first-round CCHA playoff series, each game decided by a goal, and two of the three games requiring overtime. The final game of the series went into double OT.
“That’s one of the first things on my mind [when playing UNO],” said Caponigri. “I think might be why we kind of started slow a little bit.”
Because of minor injuries during the game, one player’s absence because of his grandfather’s funeral, and another player staying behind in Omaha to take exams, by the end of the contest the UNO bench was down to 15 dressed players with just five defensemen.
With the win, OSU (11-4-1, 8-2-1 CCHA) moves into sole possession of second place in league standings. The series between the Buckeyes and the Mavericks (7-8-2, 5-6-0) is the only conference play of the weekend.
The puck drops for the rematch Saturday night at 8:05 p.m. in Value City Arena.
“I think it will be a typical UNO-OSU game tomorrow,” said Umberger. “I think it will be more upbeat.”