Hockey Bucks' Season Ends in Narrow NCAA Tourney Loss

By Aubrey Nelson on March 29, 2019 at 8:07 pm
Buckeye captain Mason Jobst splits the Denver defense in the West Regional of the 2019 NCAA men's hockey tournament.

The 2018-19 college hockey season came to an end for Ohio State on Friday evening in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament. The No. 3 seed Buckeyes fell by essentially a single goal in a closely contested battle with No. 2 Denver. The Scarlet and Gray finish the season with a 20-11-5 record.

Scoring by Period 1 2 3 Final
No. 3 Ohio State 0 0 0 0
No. 2 Denver  0 1 1 2

The Bucks had the better of the play for solid stretches of the game. Quinn Preston and Dakota Joshua enjoyed two of the team’s best looks. Each shook loose on a breakaway only to be stoned by Denver goalie Filip Larsson, who was stellar throughout the tilt.

With Larsson on top of his game, OSU needed to test him with second-chance shots. The Bucks had some opportunities to do that but they struggled to corral rebounds and loose pucks on Fargo’s funky ice. More than once a gaping net beckoned and Ohio State just didn’t have the rubber to take advantage of it.

The Bucks had considerably more success at the other end of the ice. The OSU defense kept a tight lid on the Pioneers’ snipers. Denver generated few quality scoring chances.

But with Larsson shutting down the Buckeye scorers, the defenders’ margin for error became extremely small. They only had one serious hiccup as the second period came to a close. Unfortunately that hiccup resulted in Denver’s gamewinning goal, 40 seconds before the intermission.

In the third period, Ohio State marshaled one last, late charge with Tommy Nappier off in favor of the extra attacker. But the Bucks still couldn’t solve Larsson. Denver potted an empty netter to secure a 2-0 win.

OSU outshot the Pioneers 24-13 in the contest. 13 Buckeyes registered a shot, led by Joshua’s four. OSU went 0-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Nappier made 11 saves on 12 shots through the first two periods. He did not face a shot on goal in the third. 

The loss is disappointing, of course. It comes at the end of a difficult stretch run during which the Buckeyes struggled with injuries and did not play up to their potential. But the ending shouldn’t overshadow what has been, on the whole, another laudable season for the Scarlet and Gray.

Ohio State’s unique blend of veteran savvy, youthful enthusiasm, and rock solid netminding propelled the team to its third straight 20-win season and third straight NCAA tournament appearance. They captured the regular season Big Ten title for the first time. It was only the second conference championship in program history and the first in 47 years.

Gloomy Guses can gripe about OSU’s unimpressive record but Ohio State earned its crown. A champ is a champ whether the victory comes from a tremendous knockout punch or surviving, bruised and bloodied, to answer the bell when your opponent cannot.

The Bucks’ veterans led the way. Mason Jobst became the Big Ten’s all-time points-leader as well as a B1G Player of the Year finalist and a Hobey Baker semifinalist. Dakota Joshua and Tanner Laczynski reached the 100 career point mark. Sasha Larocque’s stellar career progression culminated in the B1G’s Defensive Player of the Year award and a nod for Senior CLASS Award finalist.

Senior goaltender Sean Romeo made up one half of an outstanding goaltending tandem. For several months he and Tommy Nappier were practically untouchable in net. The pair set a program record for consecutive shutout minutes (231:42) back in November. In only his sophomore season, Nappier was named the Big Ten’s Goalie of the Year. He is also a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to the best goalie in men’s college hockey.

Other underclassmen played significant roles as well. Freshmen Quinn Preston and Gustaf Westlund became integral parts of the Buckeye offense in their debut seasons. Westlund was one of the conference’s top freshman scorers and earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Rookie team despite only playing in about half the games due to injury.

Ohio State graduates a ton of top notch talent. There is also a solid chance that Tanner Laczynski hears the siren song of the pros. These departures will make a fourth-straight NCAA tourney appearance a challenge, but the Bucks’ cupboard isn’t bare.

Westlund, Preston, and Nappier are all set to return in 2019-20. I don’t think we’ve seen the top end of Carson Meyer’s potential. And OSU has some intriguing freshmen coming in, including highly-touted defenseman and NHL draft prospect Layton Ahac, USNTDP forward Michael Gildon, and prolific playmaker Tate Singleton. The future is still looking up, hockey fans.

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