As much fun as it is to get points on the road in another team’s arena, there’s still nothing quite like the buzz of a home crowd.
That’s the opinion of Ohio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik, whose team (14-9-3, 4-5-3) is slated to return home this weekend for a series against No. 8 Wisconsin (16-8-2, 7-4-1).
“It’s great to get back home,” Rohlik said. “It’d be a phenomenal atmosphere if we can continue to get all our students and all our people out here at the game. I think it makes a world of a difference.”
In their five home conference games, the Buckeyes are 3-1-1, averaging a crowd of more than 6,000 fans. The fans in attendance this weekend get to watch the Buckeyes match up against a Wisconsin team fresh off a sweep of then-No. 1 Minnesota.
The No. 23 Buckeyes and Badgers split their series in Madison Jan. 24 and 25, so Rohlik knows just how tough an opponent Wisconsin is.
“They don’t beat themselves and they’re very well coached,’ Rohlik said. “They’re a very, very good hockey team, one of the best teams out there in the country.”
OSU’s two come-from-behind shootout victories last weekend against Michigan State pushed it to within five points of this weekend’s visitors in the Big Ten standings, and freshman forward Nick Schilkey said the team knows it has a big opportunity this weekend.
“We’re right behind the top teams in the standings,” Schilkey said. “It’s really just a matter of if we can take advantage of the situation we’ve put ourselves in.”
That situation has come to fruition because of a multitude of factors, one being OSU’s free-scoring offense which is the best in the Big Ten, with the Buckeyes averaging 3.5 goals per game. Part of that scoring has come from an impressive power play unit that has scored 27 goals, three more than the next-best team in the conference.
Junior forward Tanner Fritz, one component of the power play, said one of the unit’s biggest keys to success has been teamwork.
“We do everything as a unit out there, it’s five guys so one guy’s not trying to do it by himself,” Fritz said. “We’re doing well in key situations, which is huge, so hopefully we can keep doing well on the power play because it’s going to win us games.”
With the Buckeyes on a five-game unbeaten run — a streak that began with their 3-1 win over Wisconsin Jan. 25 — Fritz said he thinks it’s just a matter of maintaining a high level of performance if they’re going to take any points off the Badgers.
“We definitely know we can beat (Wisconsin),” Fritz said. “We’ve just got to stick to our game plan and do it together as a team and hopefully we can get two wins.”
The two teams are set to battle Friday at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m. Friday’s game also features the fourth-annual Teddy Bear Toss, where fans are encouraged to bring new stuffed animals to throw on the ice during the first intermission, with all the bears being donated to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.