Hjelle Helped Ohio State Get Back on Track
Loss in CCHA Semifinal Ends His College Career
by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter
DETROIT This wasn’t the easiest of weeks for Brady Hjelle.
Thursday, Ohio State’s senior goaltender was left off the list of Hobey Baker Award finalists, despite posting a .935 save percentage this year.
And Saturday, his illustrious career came to a close as the Buckeyes’ run through the CCHA Tournament ended at the hands of Notre Dame, 3-1, in the semifinals.
“In our eyes, he’s the MVP of this team and the MVP of the league,” said Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki. “If you take him off our team, obviously we play differently.”
The loss marked the end of an unlikely college career for a player who started as a benchwarmer for Minnesota-Duluth. After playing sparingly in his first season, Hjelle transferred after posting a 9-7-1 record in his sophomore year as a Bulldog.
Before arriving in Columbus, Hjelle went to the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders for one very special season. He recorded five shutouts and a league-record 40 wins, earning the league’s goaltender of the year award.
In Cedar Rapids in 2010-11, he was almost as dominant as he was this year — but not quite.
“He went through a lot of different diversity to get to this point,” Osiecki said.
His coach couldn’t be more thankful he ended up in Columbus.
On Saturday, Ohio State surrendered the first eight shots of the contest, but ended up striking first on its first shot. The Buckeyes seemed to feed off the early momentum of Hjelle, who made several key saves while Ohio State wasn’t generating much offense. In total, Hjelle’s counterpart, Steven Summerhays, faced only 17 shots at the other end.
Minutes away from the first intermission, Hjelle faced a 3 on 2 against the Fighting Irish’s top line, but the CCHA first-team goalie made a save worthy of that accolade off a shot from the left circle.
In the second period, in which Hjelle made 17 saves, he bailed out a tired-looking penalty-kill unit. Despite the puck being in the Ohio State zone for almost the entire two minutes, Hjelle managed to hold off the stellar Notre Dame power play.
After two periods, Hjelle was almost-singlehandedly willing his team to the 1-1 deadlock, turning away 27 of the 28 shots he faced up until that point. All afternoon, Hjelle’s play kept his team in a game that Osiecki admitted it shouldn’t have been in.
But Hjelle finally allowed the Fighting Irish power play to connect at the 3:50 mark of the third period. He was visibly frustrated after allowing the go-ahead goal from the top of the left circle, as if he somehow knew that T.J. Tynan’s tally would be the one that ended his college career.
Hjelle, who became the fifth and final Buckeye netminder to receive the league’s award for best goalie at Friday night’s CCHA awards show, averaged 25 saves per game this year en route to a superb goals-against average of 1.89.
And as he skated out of his crease in favor of the extra attacker with 1:33 left in the game, one couldn’t help but watch as he stepped off the ice for the last time, at Joe Louis Arena, the biggest of stages.