February 12, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bittersweet Buckeyes

They enjoyed the atmosphere, but another tough loss for Ohio State leaves a different feeling

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

It would be easy to get lost in the aura of Saturday's "Frozen Tundra Classic" and Green Bay's historic Lambeau Field — home of the Green Bay Packers — but for the participants, Wisconsin and Ohio State, it was necessary to remember how important the game was for each team's season.

Wisconsin's 18-2-2 start has all but assured it a place in the NCAAs already, if not a No. 1 seed, despite its 1-5 record in the past six games coming into Saturday. But it needed a win for its own psyche, especially goalie Shane Connelly, the freshman backup who hadn't played an NCAA game until the start of that 1-5 run, which coincided with the injury to No. 1 goalie Brian Elliott. Connelly has gotten a lot of the blame, some deserved, some not.

Ohio State was in a much more precarious situation, coming off a tough loss to Michigan State on Thursday, already without a number of top players thanks to injury, and hanging by a thread on the NCAA bubble.

Wisconsin's 4-2 win threw the Buckeyes into further uncertainty in that regard. So it made the day much more bittersweet for Ohio State.

"It was amazing," said junior defenseman Sean Collins. "You grow up playing outside when you're a young kid, to be able to play a game outside in front of that many fans at Lambeau Field, it was an amzing experience."

Buckeyes coach John Markell was appreciative of the atmosphere, but his job is to worry more about what happened on the ice. After all, it was still ice and it was still a game going on out there.

"I'd like to host one and fill our football stadium," he said. "Maybe someday that will happen. It's a wonderful event. I have no idea how Michigan and Michigan State did it, but this was so professional here. That needs to be said."

It needs to be said, too, that the Buckeyes played fairly well, all things considered, but, like Thursday, came up short. It's a frustrating trend for a team with a lot of talent.

Against the Badgers, Ohio State appeared to have scored a first-period goal, but it got waved off. That put them behind the 8-ball, so to speak, and it was playing catch-up throughout.

"The explanation was that the linesman at the blue line waved it off," Markell said. "He said the net was coming off. ... Now, for him to call that with the referee standing right there — I though the referee made the official call."

The Buckeyes' penalty kill did a good job — or Wisconsin's power play didn't — but with all the injuries, it took its toll.

"The problem is we're short on (personnel) and it can really deplete your energy sources," said Markell.

Ohio State wound up tying the game anyway, on a fluke goal from center ice that skipped and got past Connelly.

But afterwards, the embattled Connelly was able to reflect and appreciate the day with a smile, and can thank his teammates for providing him that opportunity.

"The biggest thing was just walking out there for the game, and you come around that bend there, each part of the crowd starts to see you and they get a little louder," said Connelly, whose friend — former New Hampshire goalie Ty Conklin — played for the Edmonton Oilers in their outdoor game. "That was the biggest thing, to look in the crowd and see how much fun people were having out there.

"It was a goal of mine to play this game, but the way things were going, I figured this would be Brian's game. But when it came to this weekend, and they said I was playing, I was extremely excited."

Elliott is supposed to return next weekend, finally, from his leg injury, when the team returns to WCHA play. For the time being, Connelly was able to celebrate with his teammates.

"Doing the Lambeau Leap is something I'll cherish forever," said the diminutive Connelly of his team's post-game celebration. "I didn't actually get up. When I got there, I figured I'd just put my hands up in the crowd, get some hugs. But I knew I wasn't going to make it, I was really tired and I didn't want to hurt myself in any way."

The biggest concern coming in was the condition of the ice. It's usually a "hard" ice, which is good, in these kinds of conditions, but it can also get choppy.

"When we came to practice yesterday, the ice was pretty bad," said Collins. "But it was pretty good today, a lot better than yesterday. I noticed there were a few areas in our zone where the ice was pretty chewed up, but the refs did a good job fixing that."

But the weather cooperated. It was 30 degrees at game time, good enough for the 40,000-plus in attendance, and plenty fine for the players.

"It really wasn't too cold," said Collins. "If there was a period of time where you were on the bench too long, like I got a penalty, you're feet got a little cold. But other than that, the weather wasn't too bad or too different from the atmosphere in a normal arena."

Of much bigger concern for the Buckeyes is what happens from here, for a team that had high hopes coming into the season but now stands at just .500.

"Obviously we're going to have to win a lot of games coming up," Markell said. "As long as the guys hang together — and I saw us hang together out there. ... We fought back, we knew how important it was, and I was proud of our kids for doing that. There's still fight left in them."

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