At times, the line between winning and losing is miniscule. A single play can be the difference in any given game.
For the Ohio State men’s hockey team, that is how it’s been this season.
OSU lost 5-3 to then-No. 9 Wisconsin in Madison Jan. 24. It was a game the Buckeyes led at one point, 2-1, but they ultimately gave up three unanswered goals on the way to their third consecutive loss.
But since that game, things have been quite different for OSU (14-9-3, 4-5-3). The Buckeyes haven’t lost in their last five games, capped off with two dramatic, come-from-behind shootout victories against Michigan State last weekend. Before that, they swept Penn State at home and beat Wisconsin in the second game in Madison.
OSU coach Steve Rohlik said he believes a combination of the lessons learned during those losses and an increase in confidence has made the difference.
“It’s the experience of going through those (close) games and then it’s the confidence,” Rohlik said Feb. 10. “It’s the confidence in each other that we can go out there and finish games and find a way to get points. I think that’s been the difference right now.”
That confidence was on display Friday when OSU came back from two goals down to tie the game with two seconds left against Michigan State. Junior forward Tanner Fritz scored OSU’s first goal, and he said he sees that comeback as the real spark for the rest of the weekend.
“Finding a way to score two goals and earning that point in the shootout (was) just huge for us in the standings,” Fritz said. “We definitely built off that Saturday night with another shootout win.”
Freshman forward Nick Schilkey clinched the shootout Saturday, and said the team’s attitude in games has really changed from earlier in the season.
“I think early in the year, we doubted ourselves at times,” Schilkey said. “But I think sticking to the plan has been important. We have some confidence going and just never give up.”
OSU has come from behind in four of the five games of this unbeaten run, a quality Fritz said is required to be successful.
“We’re growing up as a team and maturing as a team. We’re really starting to come together,” Fritz said. “There have been a couple games where we’ve found ourselves down in the third period and we’ve found a way to get ourselves back into it, and that’s all that matters during this time of year.”
Whatever the case, the Buckeyes seem to be saving their best hockey for the end of the season, one that has produced a tight Big Ten title race. OSU remains in fourth place in the conference after this weekend’s results, five points behind second-place Wisconsin and only three behind Michigan, who sits third. Minnesota leads the conference with 26 points, four ahead of Wisconsin.
Rohlik said the team tries to take its schedule one game at a time, but there is always that recognition of how important each win could be.
“We understand where we’re at and we realize how important points are every weekend,” Rohlik said. “So when you look at it one game at a time, it kind of blends together with the big picture.”
Next up, the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the last team they lost to, the Badgers, Friday and Saturday at the Schottenstein Center. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.