MARQUETTE - Ohio State University goaltender Brady Hjelle's name came up quite a bit this week during Northern Michigan University hockey practices as head coach Walt Kyle reminded his team over and over again about the Buckeye's statistical supremacy among NCAA Division I netminders.
With the a nation-leading 1.44 goals against average and .952 save percentage that was second-best in Division I, it was tough to argue against Hjelle being the best of the best.
Kyle decided to make the argument anyway, challenging the his team to prove NMU junior Jared Coreau was the best goaltender and not the Buckeye senior.
"It was fun in practice. I know the guys have my back," Coreau said. "Numbers don't really mean anything. In this level and anything higher, even juniors, any team in any league can win. It doesn't matter if you have the best goalie or the top scorer. It doesn't matter anymore.
"It comes down to who wants it more and who is going to make the least amount of mistakes."
Coreau made 25 saves in a 4-2 victory on Friday and then helped the 'Cats complete the weekend sweep of the Buckeyes with 30 saves on Saturday in a 3-2 victory that lifted his overall record and the team's above the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 10.
Hjelle, who finished with 28 saves on Friday and only 18 on Saturday. He gave up three goals each night after giving up an average of 0.92 in his previous 11 conference games.
"(NMU assistant and goalies coach Joe Shawhan) and I talked about it and he said he loved those goaltender battles," Coreau said. "It's the whole team against another team, but at the same time, in your head, it's one against one. When he makes a big save, I want to make a big save.
"There was a lot building up to it. He made some big saves and I made some big ones. It was just our guys found the back of the net more."
Northern Michigan 3, Ohio State 2
Ohio State 0 1 1 - 2
Northern Michigan 1 0 2 - 3
1st period - 1, NMU, Reed Seckel/9 (Erik Higby/9, Matt Thurber/19) 3:34. Penalties - Reed Seckel, NMU (slashing) 4:02; Max McCormick, OSU (roughing) 15:28; Matt Thurber, NMU (tripping) 16:54.
2nd period - 2, OSU, Max McCormick/8 (Ryan Dzingel/10, Sam Jardine/4) 18:18 (pp). Penalties - Devon Krogh, OSU (high sticking) 10:08; CJ Ludwig, NMU (holding) 17:52; Chris Crane, OSU (indirect cth elbowing) 18:38.
3rd period - 3, NMU, Ryan Aynsley/2 (Mitch Jones/7) 2:26. 4, NMU, CJ Ludwig/4 (Brian Nugent/1, Stephan Vigier/10) 4:45. 5, OSU, Curtis Gedig/1 (Ryan Dzingel/11, Tanner Fritz/13) 13:48 (pp). Penalties - Ryan Aynsley, NMU (interference) 12:48; Justin Rose, NMU (holding)
14:17; Max McCormick, OSU (slashing) 16:59.
Shots on goal - OSU 7-12-13 32; NMU 7-6-8 21.
Power plays - OSU 2 of 5; NMU 0 of 4.
Penalties - OSU 4 (8 min); NMU 5 (10 min).
Goalies - OSU, Brady Hjelle 6-8-4 (59:15 minutes, 21 shots-18 saves) , EMPTY NET (00:45, 0-0); NMU, Jared Coreau 11-10-4 (60:00, 32-30).
Like many of this teammates, Coreau has found an abundance of confidence in 2013 with the Wildcats going 5-0-1 since Jan. 1 to improve to 11-10-4 overall and 5-9-4 in the CCHA.
That confidence comes from the offense's ability to seize the opportunities presented to it by burying pucks into the back of opposing nets.
Two of the Wildcats' three goals on Saturday came from turnovers committed by the Buckeyes in their own zone.
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead 3:34 into the game after junior forward Erik Higby shot the free puck he was handed on Hjelle with Reed Seckel, a third-year sophomore forward, putting away the rebound.
Wildcat sophomore center Mitch Jones forced the second crucial Buckeye turnover in the third period dished to a wide open Ryan Aynsley. The freshman forward easily beat Hjelle for his second goal of the season with 17:34 still on the clock.
"That was a beautiful goal," Coreau said.
NMU senior forward Brian Nugent set up junior defenseman CJ Ludwig for the decisive goal 4:45 into the third.
Playing in just his second game since Jan. 1 after being a healthy scratch in the first four games of 2013, Nugent fired an initial shot on Hjelle and Ludwig was there to put away the rebound.
"The second half (of the season) we've started to bury the puck and we've got that confidence knowing we can do it," Seckel said. "We've just been going with it and not looking back."
Ohio State scored both of its goals on the power play after coming up empty in nine minutes on Friday.
OSU sophomore forward Max McCormick was able to get a trickling puck from the left faceoff circle past Coreau while Ludwig served two minutes for holding.
"That first goal they got, it was a soft goal," Coreau said. "It was on me. Seckel comes up to me after anytime another team scores and he looks at me and says, 'We're going to get you back.'
"The way things are going, I believe him 100 percent."
NMU did twice, but the Buckeyes pulled within a goal with less than seven minutes to play. This time it was OSU junior defenseman Curtis Gedig beating Coreau while Aynsley sat in the box for interference.
"I wasn't as pleased with our penalty killing tonight as I was last night," Kyle said. "Now one of the goals, like Jared told you, that one he'd like back, but our forecheck and some of the other things we weren't quite as good as they need to be. I wasn't happy with the penalties we took.
"I think it's a coach's job sometimes to shoot holes in something. Like I said last night, I'm not going to whip a horse that's winning a race. We're doing a great job."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-250, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens