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Big Ten hockey lives up to expectations as Wolverines win in thriller

By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 29, 2013

Big Ten football is known for its gritty, smash-mouth style replete with rivalries and tradition. Friday, the conference’s inaugural hockey season got off to a similarly enticing start.

No. 3 Michigan has made a habit of winning close games this year, and it seemed to be heading toward another such victory when it hosted Ohio State at Yost Ice Arena. But with just three minutes remaining, forward Anthony Greco finally took advantage of one of several defensive miscues by the Wolverines and one-timed a shot past freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort to tie the contest.

But minutes later in overtime, Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 9-2-1 overall) sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy. Sophomore forward Andrew Copp received a long pass from senior defenseman Mac Bennett in stride and sliced through the Buckeyes’ zone. A low, accurate wrister past netminder Logan Davis on his blocker side ensured the Wolverines were 4-3 victors and unbeaten in Big Ten hockey’s one-day history.

It was a wild, unpredictable game. Or, as junior forward Alex Guptill explained, what everyone expects all year long from conference play.

“It was a lot of fun tonight, that’s for sure,” Guptill said.

The second period brought out the very best of the uninterrupted rivalry between the former CCHA foes. With the score knotted at one, freshman center JT Compher drew a crucial penalty for being checked into the goal by Ohio State’s Alex Szczechura. The two tussled while crammed into the net as players from both sides had to be separated by teammates and refs.

“I’m just usually a feisty player, so getting into it is nothing new for me,” Compher said.

Fittingly, it was the center himself who capitalized on the power play. Senior forward Luke Moffatt’s blazing shot caromed into the slot, and Compher poked the rebound into the empty net for his third goal of the season as Michigan retook the lead.

With just 17 seconds left in the period, the freshman stamped his mark on the Wolverines’ first official Big Ten game. This time, Compher won a faceoff cleanly and reached over a defender to slide the puck over to Guptill, who ripped a rising shot that found twine.

“We had some really good individual efforts in the game, (and) JT was one of those players,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He competed hard in every shift and he got rewarded for it.”

The battle in the trenches often dictates a football game, and Ohio State (0-1, 7-2) certainly did its share of the dirty work as it kept the fans at Yost on the edges of their seats. The Buckeyes scored on both of their power-play opportunities and blocked 17 shots in the first period alone.

Ultimately, the Wolverines managed 38 shots on target, and they needed all four goals to pull out the dramatic win.

“I wish we could play them every game,” Guptill said.

They can’t, but the scheduling implications of a six-team conference ensure that the rivalry will have plenty of time to intensify. The two will meet again Monday night in Columbus and twice more later in the year before a potential rematch in the Big Ten Tournament.

But with No. 1 Minnesota, No. 12 Wisconsin and natural rival Michigan State in the conference, nearly every game could have the makings of an instant classic.