Bucks Struggle to Execute in Big Ten Semifinal, Ousted by Penn State

By Aubrey Nelson on March 17, 2019 at 7:36 pm
Ohio State's Dakota Joshua connects with a pass in the Big Ten Hockey semifinals against Penn State.

The top-seeded men’s hockey Buckeyes fell to fourth-seeded Penn State in their Big Ten semifinal match on Sunday. The Nittany Lions skated off with a 5-1 win. They’ll face second-seeded Notre Dame in the conference final next week while Ohio State awaits its seeding in the NCAA tournament selection show. 

Scoring by Period 1 2 3 Final
No. 4 Penn State 2 1 2 5
No. 1 Ohio State 0 0 1 1

In short, both teams looked like what they were today. The Buckeyes looked like a team that hadn’t seen game action in two weeks. The desire was there but not the execution. They struggled to finish in all aspects of the game. Jones was forced to make almost no second-chance saves. Ohio State needed a break to get back in the game and didn’t get one. The Nittany Lions looked like a team that’s rolling and creating its own luck.

The Bucks got off to a decent start given that the team as a whole hadn’t played in over two weeks. The layoff was even longer for a few individual players. The Scarlet and Gray welcomed both Dakota Joshua and Gustaf Westlund back to the lineup.

But OSU couldn’t able to capitalize on any of its early chances. Penn State, on the other hand, was able to put a couple of Buckeye miscues in the back of the net. Two turnovers led to a 2-0 Nittany Lion lead at the first intermission. The second PSU goal was particularly back-breaking. It came with only one second left on the clock.    

The situation did not improve for Ohio State in the middle frame. The Bucks struggled to generate significant pressure on Penn State goalie Peyton Jones. The Nittany Lions exploited gaps in the OSU defense. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, a combination of nice saves from Tommy Nappier and missed connections by the PSU attackers kept the score from getting out of hand.

Sasha Larocque tried to turn the tide with a big hit. He miscalculated and instead collected a major penalty and a game ejection. In a weird way, though, he nearly succeeded in providing a boost to his teammates as the Bucks put together four-fifths of a terrific penalty kill against the nation’s No. 1 power play.

For about four out of five minutes Penn State registered only one shot on goal. Mason Jobst streaked off on a shorthanded breakaway. He was stoned by Jones. Then the puck went right back up the ice and into the back of the Buckeye net.

Despite being in a serious hole with time slipping rapidly away, Ohio State kept battling. Tanner Laczynski fought his way to the net and scored with 2:24 to go in the second period. But upon further review, the officials deemed that the entire scoring sequence had been offside and took the goal off the board.

The Bucks hit the ice in the third period with clear determination to rage against the dying of the light. Laczynski and Joshua each took the puck to the net in the opening minutes. Jobst worked his tuchus off to set up quality looks for his linemates. Westlund returned the favor and teed up Jobst.

But, not only did the Scarlet and Gray fail to dent Jones, they fell farther behind. And at the 2:22 mark, Nate Sucese gave PSU a 4-0 lead. The angry Buckeyes kept buzzing. Finally, John Wiitala ripped a shutout-canceling tally past the Penn State netminder.

Ohio State skated extended minutes with an empty net and the extra attacker on late in the game. While they threatened the PSU net, they couldn’t hack any further into the visitors’ lead. Sucese added an empty-netter for a final score of 5-1 in favor of the Nittany Lions.

Penn State will square off with Notre Dame in the Big Ten championship game next Saturday. The B1G is guaranteed to have the first two-time tourney winner in conference history. The Irish seek a repeat of last season’s victory. PSU was the 2017 champ. Ohio State and Michigan State are the conference’s only tourney title-less teams.

The Bucks’ season isn’t over. Their regular-season body of work will be sufficient to make the NCAA tournament. This loss could really hurt their seeding, though, and make a return trip to the Frozen Four more difficult. The selection show airs next Sunday at 7pm ET on ESPNU. 

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