Earlier this week, Ohio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik said his team will have to have a good start and play a full 60 minutes in Friday’s Game One in order to have a successful weekend.
The No. 13 Buckeyes (17-10-6, 8-8-1-1), however, only completed half of the job in the series opener, as OSU allowed four first-period goals before clawing back to fall to the visiting Michigan State Spartans (7-21-3, 3-12-2-0), 5-4.
Senior forwards Nick Schilkey and David Gust, junior forward Kevin Miller and sophomore forward Mason Jobst all netted a goal each in the loss. Jobst and Gust also notched a multi-point game on the night with assists, as well as a helper from sophomore forward Dakota Joshua and senior defender Josh Healey.
“You’ve got to look in the mirror, and obviously it starts with me,” Rohlik said. “To come out at home in a game that you’ve got to have and give up four (goals) like that, it’s inexcusable. It’s just not OK.”
Following a sluggish, but physical, opening five minutes of the first period, the Spartans opened the game’s scoring off an OSU turnover in the neutral zone. Michigan State sophomore forward Cody Milan centered a pass to freshman forward Logan Lambdin, who beat OSU goaltender Christian Frey outside the crease to put the visitors up 1-0.
Four minutes later, Michigan State doubled its lead as senior forward Thomas Ebbing deflected freshman defender Mitch Eliot’s shot from the point into the back of the net to put the Spartans up two with 9:15 remaining in the period.
Continuing to pepper Frey with a barrage of shots, Michigan State cashed in for a third time in the period when redshirt senior Rhett Holland’s shot veered off the stick of Milan and over the OSU goaltender for a 3-0 lead for Milan’s second point of the night. Minutes later, the Spartans added a fourth in the period when freshman forward Sam Saliba scored on the power play.
“It was kind of a shock at first — which isn’t good — on the bench,” Jobst said. “Then we came in the locker room and kind of shook things up, and tried to rally the boys. But any time you give a team a four-goal lead, you just can’t do that.”
Out of the locker room, the Scarlet and Gray replaced Frey in net with senior Matt Tomkins, and searched for a solution to an offensive outage and four-goal deficit.
Michigan State suffered its second penalty of the night just seconds into the period, and the nation’s leading powerplay offense delivered as Schilkey buried his Big Ten-leading 25th goal of the season from the slot to cut the Spartan lead to 4-1. Healey and Jobst each recorded an assist on the play.
Michigan State’s Lambdin responded and slotted his second goal of the night to put the visitors up 5-1 with 12:35 remaining in the second, but OSU again cut the lead to three as great team passing just outside the crease from Gust and Joshua set up Miller for a tap-in and his ninth goal of the season.
The Spartans racked up their third powerplay of the night with less than eight minutes remaining in the period — however, it was the short-handed Buckeyes who benefitted from the penalty.
Off a turnover in the Michigan State zone, Jobst found himself one-on-one with Spartan freshman goaltender John Lethemon, and the sophomore prevailed with his 15th goal and 44th point of the year to cut the lead to two heading into the final intermission.
With time winding down in the third period, OSU earned its third powerplay of the game. Jobst pushed a pass to Joshua near the slot, who centered the puck to a waiting Gust, and the senior wristed his 14th goal and 34th point of the season to cut the Michigan State lead to one with 4:17 remaining.
The Scarlet and Gray produced opportunities to equalize down the stretch, but could not capitalize in the closing moments to drop Game One of the series, 5-4.
“At the end of the day — no matter what happens, whoever you’re out there with — to me, it was about the effort and just getting out competed,” Rohlik said. “We scored some goals there, we generated a little bit of offense, but we’ve got to play desperate hockey from the start instead of getting down four goals and then getting desperate.”
With Game Two and the Buckeyes’ senior night slated for Saturday evening, Rohlik said his side will have to make major adjustments to come back strong in the series finale.
“We’ve shot both feet off here the last two games, so right now we’ve got to go out there and play loose, but play desperate hockey,” Rohlik said. “Go out there and play like we can, go out there and play like a team that belongs to be out there, that wants to win, that expects to win — and you’ve got to have that attitude again.”