More than six months after losing the Big Ten Championship in overtime, the Ohio State men’s hockey team is set for its first exhibition of the season on Saturday afternoon in Columbus.
The Buckeyes’ exhibition against the University of Guelph will mark the first step in their quest for a NCAA tournament berth, something they’ve been denied for five straight years.
Junior defenseman and alternate captain Sam Jardine said the sting of missing last season’s tournament was magnified for this year’s seniors — who have endured three years of postseason disappointment.
Before last season’s 5-4 overtime loss to Wisconsin in Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes failed to make the final round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
“The veterans returning have a real bitter attitude toward the way things finished last year,” Jardine said. “It’s been good motivation.”
While OSU has eight seniors on this season’s roster, coach Steve Rohlik said the departure of two upperclassmen has created questions for the Buckeyes’ offense.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of guys score eight goals,” Rohlik said. “We’re going to have to score by committee and we’re going to have to be good at special teams.”
Forwards Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel, who combined for 24.5 percent of OSU’s scoring last season, both signed contracts with the Ottawa Senators during the offseason.
Senior forward captain Tanner Fritz is the team’s top offensive returner. Fritz finished last season with the third-most points on the team (32) despite battling an injury that kept him out of the lineup for five games.
Even with Fritz, OSU will have to get offensive contributions from all four lines to compensate for its losses, Jardine said.
“The best teams do score by committee,” Jardine said. “I’m personally not worried about our team and the ability to score goals.”
Freshmen gave the Buckeyes offensive support last season as first-years combined for 23 goals. Sophomore forward Nick Schilkey led OSU rookies in points with 13 goals and 13 assists.
Saturday’s exhibition will give Rohlik his first opportunity to see this season’s seven freshmen compete against college-level competition.
“I see a lot of guys playing because I think everyone on our roster can contribute right now,” Rohlik said.
The Buckeyes’ returners have already had an opportunity to see the team’s new crop in practice. Fritz said he’s pleased with the class and has made special note of forwards Nicholas Jones and Matt Weis.
“There’s two guys that have a ton of skills and read the game well,” Fritz said.
Following a year where OSU had six different goalies on its roster, it will start the season with three goalies on its depth chart.
Sophomore goalie Christian Frey joined Fritz, Schilkey and sophomore defenseman Drew Brevig on the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch list. Frey joined OSU midway through last season after playing in the USHL, finishing with a 2.27 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 16 games.
Rohlik noted that sophomore goalies Matt Tomkins and Logan Davis will also compete for the starting role.
Rohlik said that senior defenseman Craig Dalrymple has not skated at 100 percent this season due to injury, but added the rest of OSU’s lineup is healthy.
Fritz reported that he’d been felt an “aching feeling” in his leg during off-ice workouts, but said he underwent a precautionary MRI this week and the injury was not serious.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to drop the puck at 4:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.