Northern Michigan broke a five game losing streak with a 3-1 win over Ohio State on Friday, ending the Buckeyeâ€™s run of three consecutive wins.
â€œOur game wasnâ€™t very good,â€ Buckeye coach John Markell said. â€œWe left our goalie out to hang again, our power play was awful. We were flat and they beat us in every phase of the game. We didnâ€™t compete hard. We werenâ€™t ready to play a team as desperate as Northern was. They outhit us, outshot us and outcompeted us and we were reacting instead of making them react to us.â€
â€œIt feels good to break our losing streak,â€ Wildcat coach Walt Kyle said. â€œIt felt like forever before, but weâ€™re happy with tonightâ€™s win. Weâ€™ve had good chances all season but werenâ€™t able to score and tonight we capitalized on those chances. Whenever youâ€™re home you want to dictate the pace of the game and we did that tonight.â€
The Wildcats dominated the first period. They kept the puck out of their own zone, only took one penalty and managed a power-play goal, going 1 for 4 in the period with the man advantage.
At 14:56 and on the power play, Northern Michigan scored their first goal of the night. Nick Sirota and Erik Gustafsson gave the puck to Mark Olver who waited outside the left faceoff circle to one time it into the top right corner of the net.
Both teams took three penalties each in the second. At 6:53, during Northern Michiganâ€™s first penalty kill, Wildcat goaltender Brian Stewart left the ice due to a right knee injury. Rookie netminder Devan Hartigan took his place and killed off the rest of that power play and the two penalty kills that followed.
â€œStewart wasnâ€™t even supposed to play tonight,â€ Olver said. â€œHis knee has been bothering him and he had an MRI this morning. We came out later and he was playing and no matter what we had a solid goalie in the net so I wasnâ€™t worried. Stewart played a great game and when Devon came in it didnâ€™t change my mind set at all because I know heâ€™s a great goalie and just needed a chance to show it.â€
â€œObviously I didnâ€™t want my first game to happen like this with Stewart getting hurt, but I was glad for the chance and happy we played well tonight,â€ Hartigan said. â€œThe first period was intense to watch and the defense was great. Stewart blocked a lot before I came in and that helped me and having the 2-0 lead relieved some pressure. I really think it was support all the way around that gave us our win. The first shot happened within five seconds right off the draw and it really got things rolling.â€
â€œHartigan was unbelievable,â€ Gustafsson said. â€œHe was the player of the game. All credit to him back in the net. He really helped us out tonight.â€
A five-on-three in the Wildcats favor propelled them to a 2-0 lead with another goal from Olver who put the puck low on the left side on a rebound. The assists went to TJ Miller and Gustafsson.
â€œWe hit a couple pipes and great opportunities and then Mark scored on the power play and that go him going to help him score again later,â€ Kyle said.â€
Olver was expected to do be a top scorer for the Wildcats this season and before this game had only tallied three assists to place him eighth on the Wildcats points record. Tonightâ€™s game shifted the rankings around a bit.
â€œItâ€™s always fun when guys on our team have personal success,â€ Gustafsson said. â€œMarkâ€™s a good player and can hopefully keep going from now on. Itâ€™s a great lift off your shoulders when you score your first goal and he can definitely build off this.â€
The third period was a battle the moment the teams stepped on the ice. The Wildcats took a three goal lead at 1:53 when Phil Fox and Gustafsson gave the puck to forward Gregor Hanson. Hanson had a clear shot into the left half of the net that had fans on their feet before the puck crossed the goal line.
The goal gave Gustafsson his third assist for the night.
â€œGustafsson was our best player for long stretches last year and we love all the things he does,â€ Kyle said. â€œHe earns everything and heâ€™s a great player and competitor and Iâ€™m thankful to have him.â€
The Buckeyes stepped up their game and started breaking down the Wildcat defense. In an excellent display of passing and deking, Ohio State ruined Hartiganâ€™s dreams of a shutout. Zach Dalpe received passes from Hunter Bishop and Mathieu Picard across the crease and put the puck left of Hartigan to make the game 3-1.
â€œThe losing streak was going to break eventually,â€ Olver said. â€œOhio State is a great team and we never thought itâ€™d be tonight. Maybe tomorrow night, maybe next weekend, but to come out and get the win after 5 games without getting a point was great for us.â€
â€œYou go on the road to pick up points, our job is to come out of here with points and itâ€™s going to take more of an effort than what we gave tonight,â€ Markell said.