After four games against teams not ranked in the nation’s top 20 in the United States College Hockey Online poll and three much-needed wins, the Ohio State men’s hockey team will get back on the top 20 grind against sixth-ranked Nebraska-Omaha at the brand new Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Non-losing streaks will be put on the line on Friday night as the Buckeyes (3-7), who have won their last three games, face off against the Mavericks (9-2-1), who haven’t lost since a 6-1 hammering on Halloween at Western Michigan.
OSU has stepped things up tremendously from an offensive standpoint, scoring 15 goals in its three wins compared to just the 12 goals it pumped home in its seven losses to begin the season.
Junior captain Nick Schilkey, who leads the team in points with 12 (six goals, six assists), attributes the recent lamp lighting to putting more shots on goal and getting more bodies in front of the net, which inevitably leads to a boost in confidence, something the team desperately needed.
“Early on, we couldn’t nab a win against some of those teams but we were right there in the fight and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t come out with one,” Schilkey said. “I think we’ve gotten some confidence over the last few weekends and I don’t think we did anything extremely different. Pucks started to go in and confidence is everything. Going into this weekend, we have a lot of that.”
Getting back to his roots
In a way, this weekend represents a homecoming for OSU coach Steve Rohlik.
Rohlik was on board for Nebraska-Omaha’s inaugural season in 1997-98 as an assistant coach and was there for two more seasons before he departed for Minnesota-Duluth.
Since Rohlik’s departure, the Mavericks have been to the NCAA tournament three times, making their first Frozen Four appearance last season.
“There was a vision there when we started,” Rohlik said. “Mike Kemp gave me an opportunity to go down there and get my first college gig. Walking into (Nebraska-Omaha) and seeing the support they had from Day One, you knew that this was coming. It was a pretty unique opportunity to be involved with that program for three years. It’s really nice to see where they are at.”
Last year, Nebraska-Omaha walked into the Schottenstein Center for a weekend series against OSU and promptly swept the Buckeyes by scores of 4-1 and 4-3.
This year, it doesn’t get any easier as the Mavericks returns all of their primetime scorers from last year’s Frozen Four team including junior forwards Jake Guentzel (six goals, 11 assists) and Austin Ortega (nine goals, five assists).
“UNO, being one of the top teams in the country, they’re very skilled, they play hard, they play the right way,” Rohlik said. “They were there in the Final Four for a reason last year and they are rated where they are at for a reason right now. It is just another chance for us to go prove ourselves.”
Starting to look like the No. 1 guy
At the beginning of this season, junior netminders Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins were expected to keep their weekly tradition of a rotation in goal, with neither of them knowing who would start until the week of practice was over.
Lately, there hasn’t been any debate as to who the starting goaltender would be come Friday.
Tomkins has started in eight of the 10 games, accumulating a record of 3-5-0, a goals against average of 2.80 and a .911 save percentage.
“Obviously, as you keep playing more and the coaches keep going back to you, your confidence starts to build, so that’s definitely been a big contributor to my success this year,” Tomkins said. “It’s easy to get on a roll when you’re playing back-to-back nights.”
Barring a drastic change by Rohlik, Tomkins should get the nod on Friday night.
Thanksgiving side dishes
- UNO holds a 15-13-5 series lead over OSU, including a 9-3-3 lead in Omaha.
- The last OSU win at Omaha came on Feb. 16, 2007, by a 4-3 final score.
- OSU is 0-4 on the road this season while UNO is 4-0 at home.
- OSU’s penalty kill has killed off its last 15 penalties and are tied for 12th in the nation in penalty-killing percentage (87.8), while UNO has one of the worst power-plays in the country, ranked 55th (out of 60 NCAA Division I teams) with a conversion rate of 8.8 percent.