'It was unbelievable': Ohio State beats Michigan in outdoor game in front of record crowd

1 month ago The Columbus Dispatch

'It was unbelievable': Ohio State beats Michigan in outdoor game in front of record crowd

CLEVELAND — Tyler Duke vividly remembers the moment the Ohio State men's hockey team was told they'd be playing an outdoor game. And not just any outdoor game, but an outdoor game against Michigan, to conclude the season series between the two teams, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

Duke, a freshman defenseman, was with his teammates in the Buckeyes' weight room at the Schottenstein Center for an early-morning preseason workout. Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik had just gotten a call from Shaun Richard, the associate athletic director who administers hockey, telling him that the Browns had reached out to see if the Buckeyes would be interested in playing an outdoor game at their stadium.

Rohlik immediately went upstairs to the weight room from his office to tell his team. The reaction was immediate.

"It was early morning and coach Rohlik came in and gathered everyone around, announced that we were going to be playing in an outdoor game versus Michigan," Duke said Wednesday. "We all just started going crazy. It was a super exciting time. Obviously, our family group chat was blowing up right after that got announced, so it’s definitely been marked on our calendar for a long time now."

Duke's older brother, Dylan, is a sophomore at Michigan, and the brothers hail from the Cleveland suburbs. Their mom, Sharon, purchased an entire section at FirstEnergy Stadium for friends and family, and Saturday's game was an experience that both brothers said they'll remember for the rest of their lives.

In front of a crowd of 45,423 — including more than 400 people in the Dukes' section — Ohio State beat Michigan 4-2, and Tyler Duke's shorthanded goal late in the second period turned out to be the game-winner. The crowd was the largest to ever attend an Ohio State hockey game, topping the previous record of 45,021 from a 2014 outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

"It was pretty special," Duke said. "I didn't really know what happened (after the goal). I just kind of skated down the ice. It was a super cool feeling and something I'll remember for a long time."

The fanfare around the game made the result feel almost ancillary, but as the two teams battle in a tightly-packed Big Ten, the Buckeyes' win carries significance beyond the bragging rights that come with beating their fiercest rival in a high-profile atmosphere. Michigan and Ohio State are now tied for second place in the conference heading into the final weekend of the regular season next week, and the Buckeyes took five of the six total points from the Wolverines on the weekend after a shootout win Thursday.

"We play in the best league in the country," Rohlik said. "... It makes you a better coach. It makes you better players. Proud to be in the league and proud of our guys. We've been battling and playing some pretty decent hockey."

When sophomore defenseman Cole McWard scored on a two-on-one rush with just over six minutes left in the second period, putting the Buckeyes ahead 1-0, fireworks were set off on the lake side of the stadium in celebration. Captain Jake Wise scored the second goal three minutes later, setting off another round of fireworks and delighting the Buckeye-favoring majority of the crowd.

Michigan forward Gavin Brindley made it 3-1 at 18:25 of the second period, but Duke's tally stretched the lead back to two goals just 46 seconds later, and the Buckeyes were largely in control the rest of the way. There were several lengthy delays to fix issues with the ice, and the pace visibly slowed down in the latter half of the game due to the ice conditions, but it mattered little to Ohio State.

"You can't do much about the ice," Rohlik said. "The chunks that came out, they came out and you had to stop play to fix those. They made the right call doing that. ... We just talked when we came off, we have to keep getting better. We have to keep getting better and get the momentum. These guys did the rest."

As the game went on and the sun dipped behind the west stands, and eventually below the horizon, the lights came on overhead, further adding to the atmosphere. From the pyrotechnics as the players took the ice to the fireworks after each Ohio State goal, and at the conclusion of the game, every aspect carried the feeling of a big-time game — made even more impactful by the on-ice stakes in the race for seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.

Wise, who transferred from Boston University ahead of the 2021-22 season, could find only one word to describe his experience.

"It was unbelievable," Wise said. "I don't know if there's any other word for it. Even right away, with the whole flyover and the national anthem, I think every person on the ice got chills. Can't get much better than that. (Duke and I) have played in some international games, and this one, I'd say, blew it out of the water."

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