ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Sometimes, a team’s five-man offense and five-man defense can only take a team so far.
In a game with 43 combined penalty minutes, it was Ohio State’s four-man defense that shut down Princeton and sent the Buckeyes into the Midwest regional final of the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament.
The Buckeyes’ nation-leading penalty kill outdueled the Tigers’ nation-leading power play on six of their seven attempts in a 4-2 victory where penalties dictated the tempo of play.
“You have to have confidence, and our guys have a lot of confidence,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “I really thought we were on our toes, we had good sticks, we won faceoffs, and again our biggest thing was let’s not let them set up, let’s be the aggressors, and it seemed to work for us.”
Being a man down has proven less of an obstacle for the Buckeyes than most teams, but Ohio State has helped its own cause by remaining disciplined, committing the nation’s fourth-fewest penalties per game.
However, with the Buckeyes a man down more often in this game than any other this season, they were pushed to the limit against Princeton’s star junior forwards, Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau. But the shorthanded unit held strong and killed the penalties with a combination of blocked shots and strong goaltending.
“We’ve been prepared for that all year,” junior forward Mason Jobst said. “Obviously we took more penalties than we would like, but I thought our penalty kill did a great job.”
Coming into the game, the special teams looked to be a key decider of who would come out on top due to both teams’ proficiencies in the area. Though both teams ended up burying one a piece on the power play, Princeton’s came with just 26 seconds left in the game, when their fate was all but decided.
Ohio State, on the other hand, scored its first goal on the man advantage when Jobst beat freshman goalie Ryan Ferland to the top corner with fewer than eight minutes remaining in the first period.
The Buckeyes then scored 20 seconds later to take a 2-0 lead, a lead that Rohlik said could be the “backbreaker” for some teams.
“Boy, when you can score a couple goals quick, it certainly puts a lot of pressure on the other team,” Rohlik said. “All of a sudden you have to kind of have that confidence. Let’s start controlling pucks. Let’s just not give up the easy goals. Let’s make sure we don’t give up numbers. And I think we started to play that way.”
Kuffner and Veronneau found themselves with strong opportunities to bury the puck, but were held in check by redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo, who had 23 saves.
More than half of the game involved one team with a man advantage, which included a five-on-three advantage at the start of the second period that the Tigers failed to capitalize on.
With so much time dedicated to special teams on both sides of the ice, the matchup of top power play against top penalty kill took center stage, and Ohio State came out the victors.