Special teams could not save the No. 5 Ohio State men’s hockey team (18-6-4, 11-6-1-0) in a 6-3 loss to an aggressive and balanced Michigan State (10-17-1, 4-13-1-1). Saturday night’s loss snapped a seven-game home winning streak and split the weekend series at the Schottenstein Center.
Ohio State’s special teams went 3-for-5 on the power play and a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, but the Buckeyes’ 5-on-5 play struggled against the Spartan defense.
“That’s the difference. You look at the stat sheet here, when you win the special teams’ battle, you’re gonna win that game most of the time,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “That tells you how bad we were defensively, and it tells you how good Michigan State was.”
The Spartans came out flying, potting two goals in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
Michigan State sophomore defenseman Butrus Ghafari feathered a wrister from center point through traffic to get past redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo.
Then Spartan freshman forward Austin Kamer gathered the puck along the half-wall and threw a simple shot on goal past the glove hand of Romeo.
Throughout the first period, Michigan State pinned the Buckeyes in their own zone using its aggressive forecheck.
The Buckeyes had a chance late in the period on the power play, but that aggressive Spartan forecheck took the puck from behind Romeo, resulting in a short-handed goal off the stick of sophomore forward Patrick Khodorenko to stretch the Michigan State lead to three goals.
“They came out and worked extremely hard like they do, we knew that was coming,” Rohlik said. “We just made some untimely mistakes, again you can’t give good teams like that and spot them a lead like that.”
The Buckeyes totaled 30 shots on goal, but it could’ve been more with the Spartans getting in front of the shooting lanes, frustrating shooters for the Buckeyes.
“We know they always put their body on the line,” senior forward Matthew Weis said. “Like coach [Rohlik] said, they are a good team. We just didn’t play our best tonight.”
Midway through the second period, Michigan State freshman forward David Keefer took the puck across the crease and appeared to roof it over a sprawling Romeo for his second goal of the season.
Confusion surrounded whether the puck crossed the goal line, which led to a lengthy review that eventually confirmed Keefer’s goal. Rohlik was appalled by the officials’ indecision.
“I really don’t even know what to say anymore, to be honest with you,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got video replay to have someone make a call, not say, ‘Well, we’re not sure.'”
The Michigan State attack continued with a goal from senior defenseman Carson Gratt to give his team a 5-1 lead, which ended Romeo’s night. Romeo finished the game with 12 saves on 17 shots. Freshman goalie Tommy Napier took over for Ohio State and made all six saves.
The Buckeyes could not seem to get out of their own way, handling the puck poorly, and it cost them three points in the Big Ten standings.
“The problem tonight was we had some momentum going, all of the sudden, there was a breakdown the other way,” Rohlik said. “Next thing you know, they’ve got a guy behind our ‘D’ and walking in on the goaltending. We just had too many defensive breakdowns tonight for our team.”
Next week, the Buckeyes will travel to face No. 2 Notre Dame for a crucial Big Ten weekend series. The puck will drop at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be played at the Compton Family Ice Arena.