Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team will bring its regular season campaign to a close with a two-game road series at No. 3 Miami (Ohio) this weekend.
Barring a date in the postseason, it will mark the final time the in-state rivals meet as members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The league, which began in 1971, will disband after this season. OSU is set to join the six-team Big Ten Conference in its inaugural hockey season, and Miami will move to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The series carries large implications for both squads. Miami sits on top of the 11-team CCHA and two points will secure its fourth CCHA regular-season title.
In contrast, OSU owns only one league championship (1972) in the conference’s 42-year existence. Sophomore forward Tanner Fritz said this weekend and the ensuing playoffs are great opportunities to make a statement as a program.
“(The RedHawks) have been dominating this league for quite a few years now. That’s what OSU hockey wants to do,” Fritz said. “I think we’re pushing the pace for that this year. In years to come, OSU hockey is going to be on the map.”
OSU, sitting in a tie for fourth with Ferris State, will face the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the CCHA Tournament regardless of this weekend’s results.
Whichever team earns more points will host the second-round matchup. Ferris State will play two games at Michigan over the weekend.
Miami and OSU have already faced-off three times this season. The RedHawks took five of six points in a CCHA series in December, before beating the Buckeyes in the Three Rivers Classic, 1-0.
“We’ve had three tight games against Miami, we want to go down there and win some hockey games and try to get home ice,” said associate head coach Steve Rohlik.
In 185 minutes of play against Miami this year, OSU has only scored twice. The Buckeyes are not the only team that Miami has suffocated on offense this season. The RedHawks lead the nation in team defense, allowing a stingy 1.56 goals per game. Freshman goalie Ryan McKay has the best save percentage (.962) and goals against average (1.0570) in the country.
OSU rode its own stalwart defending for much of the season. But since junior defenseman Curtis Gedig’s injury against Notre Dame on Feb. 1, the Buckeyes have given up an average of 3.4 goals per game.
Barring any setbacks, Gedig will return to action this weekend to strengthen the blue line.
“(Gedig) has been out skating this week; I expect him to be full-go this weekend,” Rohlik said. “Having Curtis back this weekend will be a big boost for us.”
The series will be the last opportunity for OSU sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel and senior goalie Brady Hjelle to showcase their talents before the current round of voting for the Hobey Baker Award ends on March 10.
The teammates are two of 77 candidates for college hockey’s most prestigious individual award.
After being swept by Michigan last weekend, OSU freshman defenseman Sam Jardine said a better effort is crucial for his team this weekend.
“It needs to be a playoff environment for us, and we need to be desperate,” Jardine said.
Game one of the two-game series is set for Friday at 7:35 p.m. in Oxford, Ohio.