Postseason hockey is almost here, but before the Ohio State men’s hockey team (15-12-5, 5-8-5) can start packing its bags for the Big Ten tournament, it must travel to Penn State (6-24-2, 2-15-1) for the first time in program history.
With two games remaining in the regular season, OSU’s first round matchup in the conference tournament is all but set. The Buckeyes are currently in fourth place, and can’t leapfrog Michigan into third, nor can they fall lower than fifth. Michigan State sits two points behind OSU, and is also locked into fourth or fifth place.
In the Big Ten tournament, one of the two quarterfinal contests is between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, which means the Buckeyes and Spartans are slated to face each other Thursday in St. Paul, Minn., with their respective seeds yet to be determined.
The Buckeyes will again be without senior Alex Szczechura this weekend. The forward missed both games against Minnesota last weekend after sustaining an injury against Michigan on March 2.
Despite its tournament opener already being set, OSU coach Steve Rohlik said the weekend’s games against the Nittany Lions are still important to his team.
“We obviously know who we’re playing in the Big Ten tournament, (now) the thing that we’ve got to do is get better this weekend,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got to play the best hockey we can Friday and Saturday and try to get as many points as possible.”
Things haven’t been easy for PSU in its second season as a Division I program. It enters this weekend having lost five straight, and has only won two conference games all year. But Rohlik called the poor record “deceiving,” especially considering the team still has had some notable results at home — including a 4-0 win against Michigan.
The Buckeyes swept the Nittany Lions in Columbus earlier in the season, but senior defenseman Curtis Gedig said getting results on PSU’s home ice won’t be easy.
“They’ve always hung in there with teams, so it’s not like we can take them lightly,” Gedig said. “They’re a hard-working team that won’t give up no matter what the score is, so it’ll be a good test for us going into the playoffs because it’ll feel like playoff hockey.”
Freshman forward Nick Schilkey, who scored the clinching shootout goal against Minnesota Saturday, reiterated that this PSU team was going to give OSU all it could handle.
“We know that we have to play hard and play our game,” Schilkey said. “We can’t look past them at all because if we do there’s a great chance that they’ll get the best of us, so we’ve got to stick to our game plan.”
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are scheduled to face off at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.