CLEVELAND — It was unlike any game they had ever played, and an experience that they may never forget, but as the final horn sounded Sunday, the Ohio State men’s hockey team left the ice disappointed after arguably one of its worst performances of the 2011-12 season.
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes fell to No. 15-ranked Michigan, 4-1, in the state of Ohio’s first outdoor college hockey game, the “Frozen Diamond Faceoff,” in front of 25,864 fans at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Michigan had goals from four different players, and senior goalie Shawn Hunwick made 31 saves as the Wolverines swept a two-game set from OSU after defeating the Buckeyes, 4-0, on Friday.
Senior OSU forward Cory Schneider attributed part of the Buckeyes’ poor performance to the team not having played on such a big stage before.
“I thought you could tell a little bit in the first period, we were a bit in awe of the situation,” Schneider said. “Michigan has some experience in outdoor games before. I’m not using that as an excuse. That shouldn’t have prevented us from competing.”
The Wolverines had their way with OSU from the start, outshooting the Buckeyes, 16-11, and scoring twice in the opening period.
Junior forward Chris Brown put Michigan on the board first with a five-hole goal past OSU senior goalie Cal Heeter at 7:31 in the first period. Brown found the puck on a rebound after a Wolverine’s shot bounced off Heeter.
The Buckeyes looked like they would tie the game minutes later when Schneider’s shot flew past Hunwick, but the puck clapped against the post of Hunwick’s goal. The shot was the closest OSU came to scoring in the first period.
The Wolverines scored again with a goal from freshman forward Alex Guptill, who tallied after Brown dropped the puck to him in the left circle at 13:33 in the first.
“(The first period) deflated us. We needed to bounce back after the first and compete at a higher level. It was a difficult first period,” Schneider said.
OSU trailed, 2-0, after 20 minutes, but came out strong in the second period.
Sophomore forward Chris Crane scored his team-high 13th goal of the season 50 seconds into the middle stanza. OSU freshman forward Max McCormick slid the puck to Crane in front of the crease, and Crane found the back of the net.
Crane’s goal proved to be the only one of the game for the Buckeyes’, and only the fourth in four games for OSU.
“We’re in a funk,” Crane said of OSU’s offensive struggles. “All teams go through adversity over the course of a season. We just have to work hard in practice and work our way out of it on the ice.”
Michigan added to its 2-1 lead with two goals in a 28-second span in the middle of the second period.
OSU had a costly turnover in its defensive zone, and Wolverine sophomore forward Derek DeBlois made the Buckeyes pay with a goal at 9:47 in the second following the change in possession.
Just 28 seconds later, Michigan senior center David Wohlberg drove the Buckeyes’ net, slipped the puck past Heeter, and the Wolverines led, 4-1.
After the Wolverines’ fourth goal, OSU coach Mark Osiecki replaced Heeter, whose .932 save percentage coming into Sunday’s contest ranked fifth in the nation, with junior goalie Brady Hjelle.
“Cal has been solid for us. Unfortunately two goals happened bang-bang, and we had to make a change,” Osiecki said. “Certainly not pointing the finger at Cal. We have to do a better job in front of him, but it was just a situation where maybe this will jump-start our team.”
Michigan failed to score with Hjelle in net, but the Wolverines’ defense continued to stifle the Buckeyes and OSU went on to lose, 4-1.
Osiecki said that even though OSU wasn’t at the top of its game, Michigan was fully deserving of the victory.
“You have to give credit to Michigan — they were the better club tonight. Their goalie, defensemen and transition game are all terrific,” he said.
OSU dropped to 14-6-3, 10-5-3-1 in the CCHA. The Buckeyes, who had a seven-point lead in the conference before the weekend, now have just a one-point advantage over second-place Western Michigan.
Michigan improved to 14-8-4, 8-6-4-1 in the CCHA. The Wolverines are currently on a nine-game unbeaten streak and sit alone in third place in the conference.
OSU next plays a two-game home set against No. 13-ranked Ferris State, starting Friday at 7:05 p.m.