Buckeyes Empty the Tank to Beat Denver for ECAC Title
|Sophomore Jesse King finished
with two goals and four assists in Ohio State's one-goal win over
Denver on Saturday for the ECAC championship.
© Greg Wall
GENEVA, N.Y. — Four players flanked Ohio State coach Nick Myers at the postgame press conference following the ECAC tournament championship game.
The five faces bore stoic looks as all 10 eyes filled with focus. Sweat and black face paint dripped down their cheeks, surrounding each pair of pursed lips.
If not for the blue-and-white hat on the head of sophomore Jesse King, sitting on the far left, one might not have known who had won the gut-wrenching 60-minute battle between No. 3 Denver and the 10th-ranked Buckeyes.
The cap read: ECAC Champions.
"We don't hide from our goals. That's what being a Buckeye is all about," Myers said. "You come to Ohio State with the intention of competing for championships."
The excitement and adrenaline that enveloped each player between 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday during Ohio State's 11-10 victory over the top-seeded Pioneers was bookended with intense focus. This year for the Buckeyes, simply being better than the season before wasn't good enough. The mantra resulted in the program's first-ever ECAC championship and berth into the NCAA tournament.
Twenty minutes after King found sophomore Turner Evans on the right doorstep for the game-winning score with 24 seconds left, the happiness that shone through on each of their faces — raucously jumping up-and-down behind the net — had quickly subsided. Traces remained, like when King was asked to explain what he saw on arguably the most prolific feed and flick in school history, or when Dominique Alexander spoke candidly about the senior class ("Team within a team," he said) but for the most part, the fivesome appeared to have tempered most of its celebratory emotion.
In its place sat grit, resolve and determination, the same trio of emotions Myers preached in the team hotel Friday night. The same ideas that propelled the Buckeyes to score nine straight goals and come back to beat defending national champion Loyola in Thursday's semifinal; the same emotions that they'll lean on to keep their season going in the NCAA tournament.
"We're a family," Myers said. "We love being around one another. What this means is we get to go home to Columbus and spend more time together. I'm going to have these guys over to my house tomorrow night and then we're going to prepare like we've been doing all year for our opponent next weekend."
The Buckeyes jumped out to an early 4-2 lead behind a pair of King goals, but Denver's Chase Carraro went 5 of 7 from the faceoff X in the second quarter as the Pioneers pulled even at 6-6 heading into halftime. It was then 9-9 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The game slowed down. The Buckeyes defense tightened its screws, at times packing all six defenders within 10 yards of goalie Greg Dutton, and Denver pulled out after every dodge. "Walking on eggshells," Denver coach Bill Tierney called his team's overcautious tendency. It led to nine Pioneers shots in the final stanza and lengthy possessions of 3:14 and 3:56, but only one fourth-quarter goal.
Finally, after Pioneers senior attackman Colin Scott's shot with 5:20 to go skidded just right of Dutton and Denver was called for a shot-clock violation, Logan Schuss snared a pass from Carter Brown sprinting down the lane and Schuss buried the close-range shot to give the Buckeyes a 10-9 edge with 4:12 left.
One minute and twenty seconds later, Cameron Flint and Eric law replicated the play for DU to tie the game at 10.
The next faceoff between OSU's Trey Wilkes and Carraro was knocked around.
"You could see at the end both teams were just trying to survive," Tierney said.
It was Buckeyes defender Darius Bowling who ultimately came out of the scrap with the ball. After King nearly lost possession with 1:06 left, he got another chance 42 seconds later.
Coming off a Schuss screen left-to-right 15 yards from the cage, he slung a quick pass to the popping Evans on the right doorstep and it was in the net before DU goalie Jamie Faus could even react.
"I just saw Kinger dodging down the left side, I stepped into the seam I thought I had a good shot to end the game," Evans said.
Said King: "That feel of seeing Turner catch the ball and score, there was just nothing like it."
The Buckeyes players celebrated on the field as sophomore Rick Lewis chest-bumped anyone and everyone on the sideline. And after Dutton stoned Denver's Wesley Berg on a 12-yard rocket as time expired, the celebration spilled onto the field.
"It feels great," Alexander said. "It's been our goal every year since we've been here as freshmen. Every year we've gotten one step closer and one step closer, and this year we just decided it wasn't going to be good enough just to get close."