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Ohio State men’s ice hockey staggers across finish line, into CCHA playoffs

Lantern file photo

In a season full of ups and downs, Saturday night’s loss against Miami (Ohio) might have been the lowest point of all for the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team.

The No. 17-ranked Buckeyes fell to the No. 15-ranked RedHawks, 5-1, on senior night in Columbus, Ohio, in front of 8,404 fans at the Schottenstein Center. The loss caps a second half of the season that saw OSU nearly sink its postseason chances after being ranked as high as No. 2 in the country.

Miami scored three first-period goals and added two more in the second period on the way to victory. Freshman defenseman Al McLean scored the lone goal for OSU. OSU senior goalie Cal Heeter let five shots get past him before he eventually finished his final home game as a Buckeye on the bench after junior Brady Hjelle replaced him midway through the second stanza.

Miami (21-13-2, 15-11-2-1) shut OSU (15-13-5, 11-12-5-1) out, 3-0, in Oxford, Ohio, Friday night to secure home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. With the loss, the Buckeyes ended up ninth in the conference and will travel to the No. 8-seed Notre Dame, for a best-of-three series this weekend. OSU, which was leading the CCHA by seven points at the beginning of January, finished its final 14 games with a 1-9-4 record.

“Home-ice advantage is huge in the playoffs,” said OSU senior defenseman Sean Duddy. “We’ve been on both sides of that. It’s definitely tough to go on the road but it’s a new season starting next week. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”

Saturday night, Duddy, Heeter and fellow seniors, forwards Danny Dries, who didn’t play because of an ankle injury, and Cory Schneider, were honored pre-game. President E. Gordon Gee dropped the ceremonial first puck after the senior festivities were complete.

Miami didn’t take long to put a damper on the Buckeyes’ night.

RedHawk freshman forward Jimmy Mullin scored 43 seconds into the game as he skated past OSU freshman defenseman Justin DaSilva and slid the puck past Heeter, tallying on Miami’s first shot of the game.

The Buckeyes responded with a goal from McLean at 8:45 in a 5-on-3 power play after OSU was buzzing in Miami’s zone for minutes. McLean got the puck just inside the blue line and fired from the right point to beat RedHawk senior goalie Connor Knapp.

OSU continued to play well on offense, but defensive lapses allowed Miami to continue to score in the second half of the first period. The RedHawks scored twice more in the opening stanza, and took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

“It was not the start we wanted,” coach Mark Osiecki said. “I thought our guys came out and competed. I think we competed right from the get-go. Obviously you don’t like to see the first shot go in the net. That doesn’t set a great tone but our guys competed. The first period I thought we were ready to go and competed. Unfortunately they found a way to score three goals.”

The second period was more of what occurred after the midway point in the first stanza.

Miami freshman forward Austin Czarnik scored twice for the RedHawks to build a 5-1 lead in the second stanza. The first goal came from the left post at 8:23 after Mullin slid him the puck close to the net. The second came on a shorthanded breakaway at 10:06 after Czarnick got free while OSU was on the power play and beat Heeter.

“We struggled D zone,” Duddy said. “Pucks were bouncing off our sticks. Guys were forcing things. We just didn’t do a good enough job.”

Heeter was pulled after Miami’s fifth goal, and Osiecki said it was tough replacing him in what was the senior’s final game on Schottenstein Center ice as a student-athlete.

“Certainly he didn’t have his ‘A’ game tonight,” Osiecki said. “I didn’t want to pull him out being a senior, and he needs to run with it. You’re feeling badly for him, and all of a sudden a couple more go in and it’s like, ‘Hey, get out of there.’ He’s our guy. He’s played tremendously well and he’s got to get regrouped for next weekend.”

The third period saw neither team score. The Buckeyes were outshot, 33-23, and went 1-6 on the power play.

OSU will travel to South Bend, Ind., to play the Fighting Irish in the first round of the CCHA playoffs starting Friday.

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