After starting NMU golatender Bill Zaniboni allowed three goals on 22 shots in the first 27:36 of Friday's game, he was pulled and replaced with freshman netminder Brian Stewart, who had played in just eight games all season.
The Wildcats lost 6-2 on Friday and Stewart (pictured) finished out the game by allowing three markers on 21 shots. NMU head coach Walt Kyle said that he didn't like Zaniboni's play on Friday and that he hadn't liked Zaniboni in the last Ohio State series. The decision had been made.
The goalie who was 1-2 on the season and had no collegiate postseason experience took the ice on Saturday night, as well.
"We have a saying we say in our locker room all the time," Kyle said. "If you want to be a big-time player, play in big-time games."
Stewart spent the next two nights being a big-time player.
In arguably the biggest games of his career, Stewart made one athletic save after another, robbing the Buckeyes time and time again. When all was said and done, Stewart had stopped 76 of 80 shots (.950%) between Saturday and Sunday and the Wildcats escaped Columbus with a first-round tournament victory.
"I think the biggest single thing ... is we changed goaltenders," Kyle said. "And that's no slight on Billy [Zaniboni]. We changed goalies and the kid was unbelievable. I mean, he was unbelievable."
Another player who showed his muscle in the playoffs, and much to the dismay of the Buckeye fans, was NMU forward Darin Olver.
After nearly being tossed from Friday night's game for throwing a knee, Olver came back on Saturday night and netted two goals early in the first to give NMU (15-22-2 overall, 10-17-1 CCHA) a 2-0 lead.
Then, leading 2-1 on Saturday, the Buckeyes (15-17-5, 12-12-4) were putting a lot of power-play pressure on Stewart. Olver netted an unlikely shorthanded goal and gave the Wildcats an important 3-1 lead.
"I thought he was phenomenal," Kyle said of Olver. "He was easily our best forward for the weekend, and his line was easily the best line."
The Wildcats have no time to bask in the glow of the first wins in Columbus since 1981. They must prepare once again to play in a hostile playoff atmosphere. Next weekend they will take on the Michigan Wolverines (23-12-1, 18-9-1) in Yost Ice Arena. In their only matchup of the season, the two teams split a pair of games in Ann Arbor.
The Buckeyes season officially ended with the loss on Sunday and they are left to wonder what could have been.
"The toughest part about today is saying goodbye to eight seniors," OSU head coach John Markell said. "I want to say 'thank you' to them for everything they've given us and how they represented Ohio StateUniversity. That's the most important thing right now, making sure that they know what they've given to Ohio State won't be forgotten and they'll forever be a part of our hockey program, and I'm very, very proud of them."
-Quotes via USCHO