After defeating No. 2 seed Denver 5-1, the No. 1 seed Ohio State Buckeyes have won the Midwest Regional of the NCAA hockey tournament—advancing to the 2018 Frozen Four.
The most impressive part of this one was that Ohio State didn’t just win because Sean Romeo played as well as he has all year. They didn’t just win because Dakota Joshua exerted himself physically again tonight. They didn’t just win because of a Tanner Laczynski offensive performance. They didn’t just win on Mason Jobst’s playmaking. Everything came together and honest, Ohio State would have won if one of those had failed (except maybe Romeo. Goaltending is important).
Denver had nearly everyone important back from last year’s national championship squad, save Hobey Baker winner and current New Jersey Devils defenseman Will Butcher, and yet it wasn’t nearly enough against Ohio State. Denver has a first rounder centering its top line. They have a Mike Richter Award candidate in goal. They have as many second round draft picks on the team as Ohio State has draft picks total active on the ice. And yet Ohio State stoned them defensively.
College hockey is a weird beast and the most talented, in NHL terms at least, don’t always win. Minnesota and Casey Mittlestadt wouldn’t be watching at home with their Juicy Lucies if that was the case. That’s how someone like Dakota Joshua, who may have been a Toronto draft pick, who doesn’t have NHL top-six skill but has more than enough size to spare, can dominate a team filled with high draft picks. These high skill players aren’t fully developed physically, but guys like Joshua are and can more than hold their own, and in Joshua’s case, completely wreck highly ranked power plays for two games in a row.
Mason Jobst is 5-foot-7 and undrafted, and comes out and puts up 40 points. Tanner Laczynski was a sixth round pick and was probably the best player on the ice, except for maybe Joshua. Ohio State has zero drafted defenders, but one of the nation’s highest scoring backends and one that completely muddied up the offensive zone for Denver, who couldn’t get a straight look on goal all night.
Somehow, some way, an Ohio State team that was nowhere near the national conversation just two years ago had made it to this year’s Frozen Four, and showed it can play with any of the teams there. Now they’ll play Minnesota Duluth on April 5 in St. Paul. UMD beat them in the tournament last year in overtime, but this team this year is a different animal.
Funnily enough, Ohio State came out flat in the first half period in this one. They were dumping in, not really trying to carry the puck in, and were blocking shots to cling to the 0-0 tie that would conclude the first period. They outshot Denver in the first, but the Pioneers had the run of play with nearly twice as many attempts on net.
OSU would break the 0-0 tie just 3:47 into the second, however. Brendon Kearney fired a shot at the net that had less than zero shot of going in. It hit a man in front and found its way to Dakota Joshua’s feet. He backhanded it through the Denver defenseman’s legs and made it 1-0.
Kevin Miller doubled the lead against Princeton just 20 seconds after OSU’s first goal, and doubled the lead again tonight, though it took nearly 12 minutes in this one. Christian Lampasso was doubled behind the net and began his turn into Mathew Barzal, threading the needle on a pass to the front of the net to Miller, who made it 2-0 on the backhand.
That’d be all the scoring in the second, but Denver was beginning to pressure on offense, pinching in with its defenders. Ohio State looked like they’d have a storm to weather late into the third. It didn’t quite work out that way, as the headline of this story would give away.
Denver did put the pressure on for the first 10 or so minutes of the third, before Matt Joyaux of all people, the elder statesman of the defense, took a feed from Tanner Laczynski in front of the net and deposited it in the back. Joyaux only had one goal all year and, well, he picked a good time for a third.
That gave Ohio State some breathing room it’d be glad to have when Denver scored to get back within two just under two minutes after that. And then Kevin Miller worked his magic once again.
Lampasso took a puck, put it through a Denver player’s legs and fed Miller for his second of the game and third in two nights. Where this Christian Lampasso has been for four years, I don’t know, but I’m glad he’s here now.
Denver pulled the goalie with over five minutes left. Talk about desperate times calling for desperate measures. And that desperation didn’t pay off as Mason Jobst sent it down the ice to make it 5-1 with the shot into the empty net at 14:16.
That’d be it for Denver’s repeat bid if it wasn’t dead already. Sean Romeo outdueled Tanner Jaillet and made 30 saves on 31 shots. And suddenly Ohio State is in its first Frozen Four since 1998. In fact, they hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1998.
And now they sit two games from the National Championship, with as good a shot as anyone to take it. They’ll play Minnesota Duluth on April 5, and then play the winner of the all Big Ten matchup on the other side of the bracket as Notre Dame and Michigan faceoff.
That’s right: we’re potentially a game from a Michigan-Ohio State national championship game. But first, Ohio State will have two weeks off before having to take care of business against Minnesota Duluth and get revenge for last year.