Women’s hockey: Four-goal first period helps Ohio State dispatch Tommies, 6-2

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The Ohio State Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the country in women’s college hockey, but they stand alone when it comes to their aggressive, pushing-the-envelope physical style of play.

Opponents can try to simulate in practice what a meeting with the Buckeyes is like, but the only way to get the full impact is to line up against the real thing. The youthful St. Thomas Tommies found that out Friday afternoon at St. Thomas Arena, falling to the Buckeyes, 6-2.

“The mark of a good team is to be able to compete so hard in practice that the game feels normal,” St. Thomas coach Joel Johnson said. “There might be some truth in that for us.”

The Tommies appeared overwhelmed at times in the first period, falling behind 4-1. They were able to hold their own from that point on, but too much damage had been done.

“You can’t give up four (in the first period),” Johnson said, “whether it’s the forwards blocking shots, the defense covering people, the goaltending making saves, whatever it is. We just had a bad start on the defensive end of the puck.

“After that, it was fine. But I told our team, there’s no moral victories here. We’ve got to demand a better start on a Friday against a big opponent. This is two times in a row that we haven’t matched up well.”

The Tommies were blitzed by the Gophers last Friday but were able to play a much more competitive game the next night. They are hoping for a carryover from the start against the Buckeyes.

“We went into the game saying we were embarrassed last Friday and we got much better Saturday, so let’s have that be the new basement and build from there,” Johnson said.  “I thought when we had the puck we were fine. Without the puck, we just struggled.”

The Buckeyes’ intense forechecking played a major role.

“I just think we were on our heels a little bit at the start,” said Tommies freshman left winger Cara Sajevic, who scored both of St. Thomas’ goals. “We decided we wanted to get the momentum, and we just took it. And then we got on our toes.”

Both teams scored on their opening shot on goal in the game. The Buckeyes put the pressure in the St. Thomas zone from the opening faceoff and took a 1-0 lead at 1:12 when Hannah Bilka redirected a shot from the point past Tommies goaltender Calla Frank.

The Tommies pulled even at 6:09 when Rylee Bartz fed Sajevic in the slot for her third goal of the season. The Buckeyes then rattled off three goals in 1 minute, 26 seconds, the last goal sending Frank to the bench in favor of Maggie Malecha, who made her first appearance of the season.

The second period was much more competitive. The Tommies were unable to take advantage of a couple of power plays early in the period, including a brief five-on-three. Ohio State scored the only goal of the period, with Edina native Emma Peschel beating Malecha from high in the slot with less than a second to play in the period.

Sajevic added her second goal of the game 13 seconds into the third period before the Buckeyes added a late goal.

Johnson said he challenged his team in the locker room after the second period to finish strong. Not just to gain some momentum for Saturday, but to have it pay dividends as the season goes on.

Another bounce-back Saturday would likely do wonders, too.

“We’ve got to start,” Sajevic said. “We’ve got to come ready.”

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