It’s no secret that hockey coaches live by the credo that the best penalty killer is the goalie.
In that case, Ohio State’s Cal Heeter was the star of the Buckeyes 1-0 victory over No. 7 Miami (Ohio) on Friday before a rambunctious crowd of 5,154 in Value City Arena.
Heeter made 40 saves and helped defuse a RedHawks two-man advantage in the third period to make Sergio Somma’s late second-period goal stand.
“Your penalty kill begins with your goaltender and Cal played extremely well,” Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki said. “Our guys played pretty well in front of him but obviously the penalty kill was the key tonight.”
The Buckeyes have won five straight under the first-year coach and are 11-8-1 overall and 6-6-1-1 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Miami dropped to 11-7-3 and 8-5-2-1.
“The guys are feeling a little bit more relaxed,” he said. “They’re starting to, I don’t know if they will ever understand us as a staff, but they’re starting to get more comfortable in the situation.”
Heeter, a junior, stopped all five power-plays shots in the first period against a team that had converted 30 percent of its chances in the previous 10 games. He also made a pad save hugging the right post during Miami’s 57-second, 5-on-3 in the third period. The RedHawks totaled six power plays to four for OSU.
“Anytime a team kills a 5-on-3 or scores on a 5-on-3 it’s a momentum changer,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “They did a great job tonight. Heeter played well. I don’t know if we had many second or third chances in front of the net.”
Heeter credited his teammates for his third career shutout.
“Our forwards and our D played absolutely excellent,” he said. “Our D in front were blocking guys out. I had a few shots early. For me it really helps to focus in to get tested early. It really brings me into the game when I see a lot of shots in the first.”
After splitting time with senior Dustin Carlson the past two years, Heeter has played every minute this season.
“It makes it a little bit easier for me knowing you’re going to play every night,” he said. “When you get in there every night you get on a roll, get some confidence and develop a little better network with your defensemen.”
Fortunately, the Buckeyes didn’t waste his stellar effort.
It was on the third OSU power play that Somma put in a rebound of John Albert’s shot with just nine seconds left in the middle period. Somma leads the team with 12 goals.
Heeter outdueled hard-luck loser Cody Reichard (23 saves). He made 24 saves through two periods and helped thwart four RedHawks’ power plays and stymie the fourth-best scoring team (3.8 average) in the nation.
Despite the disparity in records, the game was an example of the intense rivalry that unfortunately has been curtailed because of changes in the CCHA schedule necessitated by Nebraska-Omaha jumping to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Buckeyes and RedHawks were in the same cluster and used to play at least four times a season in two home-and-home series. Saturday’s game at 7 p.m. will the last of the regular season.
“It’s disappointing for the fans,” Blasi said of playing only twice this season. “You could see the crowd from both Oxford and Columbus into it.
“That was one of the best crowds I’ve seen in my 12 years at Ohio State. It’s electric. It’s fun for both teams and it’s an in-state rival. Hopefully next year we’ll go back to four games and be home-and-home. It’s a great, great rivalry. It’s a lot of fun for both teams… That’s what college sports is all about, right?”
Osiecki agreed, “The fans were awesome tonight. They did a helluva job.”