Despite a two-week hiatus, the Ohio State men’s hockey team continued the trend of falling behind in games, and it paid the price Friday.
No. 17 Ohio State (7-4-0, 4-2-0 Big Ten) fell 5-4 at the hands of Mercyhurst (4-5-4, 3-3-4 Atlantic Hockey Associated) 5-4 Friday evening. The Buckeyes fell behind 5-2 in the third period and, despite a late rally, were unable to complete the comeback.
For the fifth consecutive game, Ohio State fell behind at some point in the contest. Although he was disappointed with how the contest panned out, head coach Steve Rohlik said he enjoyed the resiliency his team displayed in the loss.
“You don’t want to dig yourself into a hole like we did tonight,” Rohlik said. “The positive is we didn’t quit. The negative is we put ourselves in that position.”
Rohlik made sure to give credit to Rick Gotkin’s Lakers, crediting them with taking the game to the Buckeyes.
“We lost to a good hockey team that was hungry tonight,” Rohlik said. “They scored on their opportunities. You’ve got to tip your cap to Mercyhurst. They did what they needed to do to win tonight.”
With 10:38 remaining in the first period, the Buckeyes power play took the ice following a tripping penalty on junior forward Matt Cassidy. The man-advantage was a stagnant one for Ohio State, registering just one shot in the two minutes.
Seconds after the power play concluded, senior forward Gustaf Westlund fired the puck off the post, the third time the Buckeyes had struck the pipe in the opening frame. Freshman forward Cam Thiesing and sophomore forward Travis Treloar were also denied by the frame of the goal.
After 13:35, Ohio State drew first blood, as junior forward Tate Singleton went five-hole on Mercyhurst graduate goaltender Hank Johnson for his fourth goal of the season.
Senior defenseman Ryan O’Connell and Westlund were each given their second helpers of the year on Singleton’s goal.
After 20 minutes, Ohio State led 1-0 and had outshot the Lakers 14-8.
The Buckeyes’ power play unit returned to the ice after 3:33 into the second period. However, the power play only lasted 26 seconds due to a high sticking penalty committed by Singleton.
Just as the 4-on-4 came to an end, Mercyhurst leveled the game at one. The goal, scored by sophomore forward Noah Kane, was technically a power play goal, as it came exactly two minutes after Singleton’s infraction.
Kane’s tally was unassisted and the second of the season for the center from Buffalo, New York.
Junior forward Mark Cheremeta became the fourth Buckeye to have a shot saved by the pipe at 11:11 of the second period. The cross bar behind Johnson denied the former Boston University Terrier from giving his team a one-goal lead.
Following a penalty by graduate defenseman Will Riedell, one of two captains for Ohio State, sophomore forward Mickey Burns gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead. Burns deflected the puck past freshman netminder Jakub Dobeš for his third of the campaign.
Ohio State failed to kill either of the two penalties it committed, while also going 0-for-2 with a man advantage. Struggles on special teams have been a common occurrence for the Buckeyes this season.
The deficiencies displayed when playing 5-on-4 are not for a lack of trying, as Rohlik continued to emphasize the importance he places on that area of the game.
“We’ve got to get better. I think our guys know it, we know it,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got to continue to push through it. We’ll get there. We’re hoping it’s going to click sooner than later.”
Following the conclusion of the second period, the Buckeys held a commanding 29-20 lead in the shot department yet trailed 2-1 on the scoreboard.
With 17:35 remaining in the game, the Lakers added a third goal, giving them three unanswered. Kane found the back of the net for the second time, extending the Lakers’ lead to 3-1.
Treloar quickly responded for the Buckeyes. An acrobatic, backhand attempt from the right wing beat Johnson and reduced Mercyhurst’s lead back to one.
Singleton and junior defenseman Dominic Vidoli assisted Treloar’s third goal of the year.
Two minutes after Treloar made the contest 3-2, Mercyhurst scored twice in the span of 21 seconds to restore their multi-goal advantage. With his team trailing 5-2 on the scoreboard, Rohlik turned to junior goalie Ryan Snowden between the pipes.
The Lakers became just the second team to put more than two goals past Dobeš. Minnesota is the other, having put three past him in Ohio State’s 4-3 win in Minneapolis Nov. 12.
The five goals scored by the Lakers are the most goals the Buckeyes have conceded in a game this season. Riedell expressed disappointment felt by the defensive unit following Friday’s difficult game.
“I just don’t really think we played to our identity,” Riedell said. “Our style is getting pucks north and I think we just didn’t do that enough tonight. Ultimately, that cost us the game.”
Freshman forward Georgii Merkulov gave the Buckeyes a slimmer of hope with 6:41 to play. Freshman defenseman Mason Lohrei made a beautiful cross-ice pass to set up the Russian native, who promptly made it 5-3.
With 3:29 remaining and the net empty for the Buckeyes, Treloar notched his second goal of the evening. The sophomore from Sweden followed up a Merkulov shot attempt and lit the lamp for Ohio State. The goal reduced the Lakers’ lead to one.
Despite a barrage of shots in the final few minutes, the Buckeyes were unable to level the score, dropping game one of the series, 5-4.
Ohio State registered 45 shots compared to Mercyhurst’s 32. The Buckeyes also won the faceoff battle 36-24.
The Buckeyes were without senior forwards Quinn Preston and Jake Wise, as well as junior forward Jaedon Leslie tonight. All three players had started the first 10 games of the season and are key contributors for this Ohio State team.
Rohlik disclosed that the attackers were sick and unable to suit up this evening. He didn’t use that as an excuse, however, saying those who were healthy enough to play tonight, were more than good enough to bring home a victory.
“They’re good players, but we’ve got good players in the lineup,” Rohlik said. “We had enough guys in there to do the job, we just didn’t get it done.”
Ohio State will look to right the ship tomorrow afternoon as game two of the series is set for 5 p.m. The contest will be played in the Schottenstein Center and streamed on Big Ten+.