Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
Tied for fourth place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings, the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team is positioned to earn at least one home playoff series as the regular season comes to a close.
OSU (13-12-7, 12-7-5-1 CCHA) is tied with Ferris State (15-13-4, 13-11-2-1 CCHA) with two weekends left in the regular season. Both the Buckeyes and Bulldogs have 42 points this season, and the teams split the only series between them in early January.
In the current CCHA format, a team earns one point for an overtime tie, two points for a shootout victory and three points for a win in regulation. OSU has two regular season series left while Ferris State only has one more opportunity to earn points.
Both teams are coming off wins Saturday night, as OSU dispatched second-place Western Michigan, 6-3, in Columbus and Ferris State beat Bowling Green 4-3 at home in Big Rapids, Mich.
OSU’s six-goal explosion Saturday came after being held to just one goal on Friday against the Broncos. It was the second time this month and third time in their last four weekend series the Buckeyes scored six goals in a game.
OSU coach Mark Osiecki was pleased with his team’s effort on Saturday, especially with the 39-25 shot advantage OSU held against the Broncos in the game.
“It’s hard to play (for the other team) when you put a lot of pucks on net,” Osiecki said. “It’s hard for defensemen. I’m a former defenseman. You have to turn, you have to open up, you have to find pucks. It’s very difficult to play.”
The Buckeyes only recorded 19 shots on Friday against WMU’s 31, which led Osiecki to give his team one simple goal for Saturday.
“Our message was shoot,” he said. “And we were very, very clear about that.”
OSU hosts Michigan this weekend with a chance to add six more points to its season total against the Wolverines, who sit at 10th place in the CCHA standings. After being swept last weekend at Notre Dame, Michigan is looking to play the role of spoiler against its rival.
Junior forward Alex Szczechura has nine goals in the last 15 games and said he feels OSU’s top line of himself and sophomore forwards Max McCormick and Tanner Fritz is working especially well together now.
“Our line is clicking right now, as well as our whole team,” Szczechura said. “Pucks are just going in for me.”
Fritz agreed with his teammate.
“We’ve had a lot of chemistry,” he said after scoring his seventh goal of the season and recording three assists Saturday. “I feel like we’re getting the bounces now and we’re really clicking as a line. It’s probably the best time for us to be doing that, going into the playoffs.”
The CCHA playoffs start March 8, but if OSU finishes at least fifth in the standings, it will earn a bye and open postseason play in the quarterfinals starting on March 15.
The Buckeyes sit five points behind third-place Notre Dame, which travels to Kalamazoo, Mich., to play Western Michigan this weekend. A weekend sweep of Michigan would put OSU in position to be in third place in the standings heading into its final regular season series at Miami (Ohio).
Freshman defenseman Craig Dalrymple said finishing in the top four of the conference to secure playing on home ice would be “big time” and that he and his teammates are believing in each other.
“You obviously want home ice throughout the playoffs,” Dalrymple said Feb. 12. “We’re just here to worry about ourselves, and I think we just believe in each other.”
The Buckeyes’ quest for home ice is set to continue Friday night against Michigan at 6:35 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.