Playing at home for the first time at home since Dec. 15 and with a renewed vigor from having a healthy lineup, the Ohio State men's hockey team showed signs that they can be very good in jumping to a 3-0 lead in Value City Arena on Friday.
The Buckeyes had a crisp transition game, crashed the net when needed , had excellent specialty teams and another outstanding effort from senior goaltender Brady Hjelle.
But they also let the gas off the pedal just enough for Lake Superior State to make it a nail-biter to the very end before OSU snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory before 3,510 fans.
"You're never going to play a perfect game," Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki said. "It's how you're going to overcome any kind of mistakes that are made. I thought our guys did a pretty good job handing the situations when we didn't make the right decision or something bad happened to us."
Ohio State (9-11-5, 8-6-3-1 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association) got goals by freshman Riley Simpson, junior defenseman Curtis Gedig and sophomore Tanner Fritz and assists from six other players to back the 34 saves of Hjelle.
His counterpart, Kevin Murdock, was equally impressive in early relief of Kevin Kapalka after OSU took a 1-0 lead at 6:05 of the first period. Murdock stopped 36 shots and kept the Buckeyes at bay long enough for the Lakers (13-13-1, 8-10-1-1) to mount a third-period comeback.
Chris Ciotto scored at the 48-second mark and Ben Power made it 3-2 at 10:22 but the Buckeyes held on for just their second win in 11 games.
"Our guys played outstanding," Lakers coach Jim Roque said. "We gave ourselves a chance with eight minutes to go, 3-2 hockey on the road in the CCHA. I have no gripes at all."
The game could have changed dramatically with just over three minutes to play when OSU sophomore Nick Oddo broke free but was wrapped up by a pair of trailing Lake Superior players as he attempted a move on Murdock.
Oddo crashed into Murdock after being impeded and the Buckeyes were expecting a power play or even a penalty shot. Instead, the Lakers Zach Sternberg was called for hooking but Oddo was curiously sent to the box for goalie interference to negate the man advantage.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the sequence did not harm them.
"I couldn't believe it," Gedig said of the call. "You've just got to play, I guess. There isn't much you can do. It's surprising, though."
Coming off a tough series at Northern Michigan where Osiecki said the Buckeyes got nothing to show for six excellent periods, he was happy to get back into the win column.
"I'd much rather come away with three points and find a way to tweak some things and play a tight game," he said. "There's a lot of learning lessons in there."
The first was to get off to a good start.
They had jump, desire and, best for them, a 2-0 lead thanks to a sneaky goal by Simpson and a gritty effort from Gedig.
Simpson's second career marker was the result of a perfect transition. Hjelle gathered the puck behind his net and dished to freshman defenseman Craig Dalrymple. He sent pass along the right wall to Chris Crane, who then found Simpson skating through the neutral zone on the left side.
"Our speed helps us in the neutral zone get pucks deep and we controlled the puck well in their end," Fritz said.
After Simpson reached the faceoff circle he slapped a seemingly innocent drive that Kapalka should have stopped. He didn't and on the Buckeyes' fifth shot 6:05 mark he was pulled in favor of Murdock, who had started 16 of 28 games.
Simpson was in the lineup only because junior Travis Statchuk became ill Friday afternoon.
"A great response by (Simpson)," Osiecki said.
Gedig scored his 10th of the season on the power play at 17:48 but not before Hjelle made a save that might have been the key play of the game.
After OSU committed a turnover at the blue line while a man up, Stephen Perfetto skated alone on Hjelle but was denied by his right pad to preserve the lead.
Moments later leading scorer sophomore Ryan Dzingel took a pass to the right side of the net by freshman Anthony Greco and tried to stuff the puck past Murdock. He was thwarted the first time but Dzingel and Gedig charged the net and it was Gedig who was credited for shoving the puck across the goal line.
"It was a pretty easy goal," Gedig said. "I got to the front of the net and found a way to tap it in.
"I think I blacked out. Just a nice scramble out front of the net and I just came in swinging and felt contact and the puck was in the back of the net."
Murdock got some revenge with 10 seconds left in the period when he made a sterling save on a partial break by Greco with 10 seconds left.
But he was victimized by bad luck when the Buckeye took a 3-0 lead at 3:49 of the middle period as a low slot shot by Fritz from centering pass by sophomore Max McCormick went off the stick of Sternberg, leaving the goalie helpless.
"Last weekend the first game we hit four posts or something like that and the second game we had a goal disallowed right at the start," Fritz said. "It was a little puck luck there. It was a great play by Max."
The teams wrap up the series Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Value City Arena.