When the puck drops in Columbus this weekend, the Ohio State men’s hockey team’s coming-out party will be officially over. The Buckeyes won’t be surprising anyone this year, including themselves.
OSU’s regular-season opener against No. 4 Providence will mark the beginning of a season where expectations are clearer than they’ve been in the past, Buckeye junior defenseman Sam Jardine said.
Goals to win the Big Ten title and reach the NCAA tournament are built upon the OSU’s loss in the conference championship last year, Jardine said.
“It’s been fresh in our memory all summer,” he said. “(We are) very bitter about it, but very motivated, very empowered to get back to that spot where we were last year.”
The Buckeyes return 19 players after going 18-14-5 last season. Back for another run at the postseason, a roster that lost Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel to the NHL is eager to show it can compete without its high-profile forwards.
“I think we’ve got a group that wants to prove to people that we have what it takes,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said.
That group is one making an offensive transition. This season, the Buckeyes will become a four-line team that relies less upon its top-six forwards, Rohlik said.
OSU’s balance was exemplified last weekend when 13 players registered at least one point in the team’s 7-1 exhibition win against the University of Guelph. Forwards Matt Weis and Luke Stork earned points for the Buckeyes’ freshman class.
In their first week of official practice, OSU’s eight newcomers have quickly adjusted to practice and game-speed, senior forward Tanner Fritz said.
For Fritz, the loss of former linemates Alex Szczechura and McCormick has forced him to make an adjustment of his own. OSU’s top returning scorer has been paired with junior forward Anthony Greco and senior forward Darik Angeli in practice.
“Those are guys that bring a ton of speed to the game, so it’s just kind of me keeping up with them,” Fritz said.
But while the Buckeyes’ offense is changing, its goaltending is not. Sophomore goalies Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey, who combined for a 2.53 goals against average last season, will each play this season, Rohlik said.
Rohlik did not reveal this weekend’s starter, but said he was comfortable with either player between the pipes.
In front of the goalies, the defensive keys will be to avoid odd-man rushes and keep the Friars to the perimeter of the offensive zone, Jardine said.
“We know with the guys that we have behind us that if we give outside shots they’re going to take care of those,” Jardine said.
This weekend against Providence might prove to be a goaltending showdown.
The Friars’ junior goalie Jon Gillies has a career 2.12 GAA and .931 save percentage, while his backup, sophomore Nick Ellis, posted a 2.35 GAA and .904 save percentage last season.
Gillies and Ellis propelled the Friars to a 22-11-6 record and NCAA tournament berth last season. The Friars, like the Buckeyes, also have high expectations with 19 returnees.
“If there’s a year for Providence, this is probably their year,” Rohlik said. “We’re playing a very good hockey team and we have to be ready.”
OSU’s preparations for Providence were made easier by the teams’ agreement to trade game film. Rohlik said the Friars initiated the offer to swap tape from last season, an exchange the OSU coach had not made in the past.
Despite having film to analyze, Rohlik said he understands his team won’t be mistake-free on Friday. He said his hope is for his team’s effort and accountability to compensate for its mistakes.
For a team eager to start the season, it’s just the first of many expectations.
The Buckeyes are set to open their season on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
- OSU junior defenseman Craig Dalrymple is injured and will not play this weekend, Rohlik said.
- OSU is 2-1-0 all-time vs. Providence
- This weekend’s games are part of the Hockey East/Big Ten challenge that awards a trophy to the conference with the most points in inter-conference play.