Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State men’s hockey team couldn’t have been more inconsistent last season.
OSU returns 20 letter winners from last year’s squad that went 15-15-5, tying for eighth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and losing in the first round of the conference tournament. The team has six newcomers, all freshmen.
The Buckeyes’ combination of youth and experience has OSU coach Mark Osiecki optimistic for the upcoming season.
“I think after last year and the experience we gained, I think that the youth that we have, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and excitement,” Osiecki said.
The team’s growth, along with a number of other topics, including leadership, the CCHA, and the NHL lockout, were discussed heavily at OSU’s media day Oct. 1.
Learning from 2011-12
OSU was one of the most inconsistent teams in the country last season.
The Buckeyes were predicted to be a conference cellar dweller prior to the 2011-12 season but climbed to the top of the college hockey world by January, winning 14 of their first 19 games.
OSU then fell off the face of the collegiate hockey earth, winning only one game in the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
As disappointing as that was for OSU, it has them motivated to be better this year.
“This year, having another year under our belt, we went through some of those highs and lows (last season) and we know what it takes to be consistent through the whole season,” said sophomore forward Max McCormick.
What went wrong last season, according to junior forward Chris Crane, was a little bit of everything. One thing stood out though: poll watching.
“I think we looked at (the rankings) a little bit too much, but I think the best thing we can take is it is something we can learn from,” Crane said.
Osiecki has made sure that will not occur with this year’s squad.
“At one of our preseason meetings, coach (Osiecki) talked about how to handle winning, and how to handle being successful. I think it’s something that we have to learn. There’s a process to it,” said senior defenseman Devon Krogh.
Who’s going to wear the ‘C?’
For now, the Scarlet and Gray ‘C’s stitched to the sweaters of the OSU captains don’t have permanent homes.
OSU had two captains all last season: former defenseman Sean Duddy and former forward Cory Schneider.
This season, captains have yet to be named.
“It’ll be interesting to see in terms of leadership. I think that’s one area where it’s going to be a team effort,” Osiecki said. “We’ve told them since day one … we’re going to continue evaluating it.”
The Buckeyes have only four seniors, and Osieckisaid even the sophomores could be players that step up and lead. Rah-rah, in-your-face type leadership isn’t OSU’s style this season, though.
“I think I’m a big believer in leading by example. They’re pretty big guys already – like grown up. So it’s little things like giving them advice before games,” Krogh said.
Along with returning 20 letter winners, the Buckeyes also bring back five of their seven top scorers from the 2011-12 team.
Crane and sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel led OSU last season with 24 points, and Osiecki wants his team to be more aggressive inside the blue line this year.
“We want them to be more offensive and really put the pressure – I don’t want to say pressure, because pressure’s a bad word – but hold them accountable. We need Dzingel, Crane, McCormick, (sophomore forward Tanner) Fritz – they need to be offensive and they need to get looks at the net,” Osiecki said.
Team speed should be an improvement this season as well, with freshman forward Anthony Greco – the team’s quickest player, Osiecki said – leading the bunch.
“I think we’re a better skating team now than we were last year. We’re going to try to be a more pressure team, a more transition (team),” Osiecki said.
On the road again
OSU opens the season with six straight contests on the road: two at Minnesota Duluth, two at Quinnipiac and two at Bowling Green.
Ten of the Buckeyes’ first 14 games are away from the Schottenstein Center.
As young as OSU is though, with 17 freshmen and sophomores, going on the road early could be a benefit.
“I think with a young team, it’s good to get on the road. It certainly brings you closer together,” Osiecki said.
OSU concludes its regular season with eight of 12 games at home. The end of the season is when you want to be at home, in front of a raucous crowd gaining momentum for the postseason, Krogh said.
“That’s when you really want to play well, going into the playoffs. So I think that’ll help,” he said.
Goodbye CCHA, hello Big Ten
The CCHA is disbanding after this season.
Starting in 2013-14, OSU, along with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin, will form the first-ever Big Ten men’s hockey conference.
Osiecki said OSU is already starting to reap the benefits of being a Big Ten hockey school, most notably in recruiting.
“Especially if you’re in the state of Minnesota, or if you use recruiting differently in certain areas, but in Minnesota, it helps us get in the door of a household,” Osiecki said. “Does it help us land a kid? Maybe not yet, but it certainly opens the door now.”
Columbus is home to another major hockey team: the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
For the time being, though, OSU is the only squad that Ohioans will be able to watch play.
The NHL lockout has delayed the start of the Blue Jackets’ season, which means OSU could be featured more prominently in Columbus’ hockey spotlight.
“Are we going to have a few more fans come in? I’m not sure. It’s a different style, a different brand. It’s obviously a little bit more affordable for families (than the NHL),” Osiecki said.
One thing NHL fans that stop by the Schottenstein Center to watch OSU play can expect, Osiecki said, is an effort unlike that in the NHL.
“College guys give it every single game. There’s two games a weekend. That’s it. They’re not playing 82 games. It’s such a different brand of hockey,” Osieck said.
Building a program
Osiecki, a Minnesota native and former NHL defender, is entering his third season at the helm of the OSU men’s hockey program.
Despite the Buckeyes’ struggles at the end of last season, OSU’s coach and his staff are pleased with the way their program is developing.
This season’s team, more than the previous two squads Osiecki has led at OSU, truly displays what college hockey should be about, the coach said.
“When they step on the ice, or stepping in the locker room, they’re ready to go. The mentality of being a hockey player has really changed. It’s been fun to see that growth,” Osiecki said.
OSU players have been itching to get on the ice as much as possible since last season ended, Osiecki said, and it’s something the coach loves to see.
“You’ve got guys coming in this year – for the first time in the three years we’ve been here – you’ve got guys asking, ‘There’s open ice, can we go out and skate? Can we just go out and shoot pucks?’ No one ever asked that question before,” Osiecki said.
OSU, with a storied football program and elite men’s basketball team, likely will never be a typical “hockey school.”
It’s getting closer to being one, though.
“My first year coaching at North Dakota, it was a great experience for me. The ice was there all day and kids came in periodically throughout the day and skated. They wanted to be a hockey player. I think we’re getting closer to that when kids are coming here, wanting to be a hockey player,” Osiecki said.
OSU opens its season with an exhibition game Sunday against Waterloo at 2 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center. The Buckeyes open the regular season Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. against Minnesota Duluth in Duluth, Minn.