The Ohio State men’s hockey (7-13-2, 2-4-2) team will look to grab more goals and points as it readies to face a struggling Michigan State (5-17-2, 1-7-0) squad on Friday and Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.
The weekend could prove as somewhat of a breather for the Buckeyes, who are scheduled to take on their first unranked opponent since their 4-4 draw against Wisconsin earlier this month. Since then, they have faced a sixth-ranked Michigan team and a No. 14 Penn State squad. The Buckeyes will try to use the series against the Spartans to create some separation from the bottom teams in the Big Ten standings.
OSU sits fourth in the conference with nine points from eight games, while Michigan State is last with three points from its eight conference matches so far this season. The Spartans’ last victory came more than a month ago: a 4-3 win against Wisconsin in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Buckeyes are trying to avoid letting the advantage in the standings distract them from their usual routines, but the team recognizes the importance of gaining ground in the conference.
“I think we come prepared every week,” said co-captain and senior defenseman Craig Dalrymple. “Same mentality, same work ethic in practice. When you look at Michigan State, they may be toward the bottom of the conference, but that doesn’t mean we can take them lightly. We’re preparing this week just like we prepare for Michigan or Wisconsin or anyone in this conference.”
Junior forward David Gust agreed with his teammate, noting that all games count for the same amount of points no matter the strength of the opponent.
“I think it’s another game for us, but it’s crucial for the standings, so we got to come out with some points,” Gust said. “We’ve just got to concentrate on getting the points as a team and moving up in the standings.”
The Spartans had the Buckeyes’ number last season, with Michigan State winning three of the four encounters with the Scarlet and Gray. The previous matchup between the two sides resulted in a 2-0 victory for the Green and White on Jan. 24, 2015, at the Munn Ice Arena.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for (coach) Tom Anastos and Michigan State, and they’re very capable. Everything is so close, and they’ve been close,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “We’ve got to have a good week. We’ve got to have another couple good days of skates here and be ready for them.”
The sole victory for the Buckeyes last season was a 3-0 contest in Columbus on Nov. 21, 2014.
Suspension troubles continue
The Buckeyes will once again be shorthanded this weekend, as the Big Ten handed down a two-game suspension for junior defenseman Josh Healey on Monday. The disqualification was a result of a major penalty assessed to Healey for contact to the head of Penn State freshman forward Alec Marsh.
“Well I’ve got a lot of respect for Steve Piotrowski, the head of officials (for the Big Ten). I’ve got a lot of respect for the Big Ten and doing what’s best for the game of hockey. We respect that and their decision,” Rohlik said. “No doubt we’re going to miss him. He’s probably been our best defenseman. But certainly that’s why you’ve got numbers, somebody else has got to step up.”
Dalrymple affirmed the squad’s “next man up” mentality, as it did the week prior when it was without a pair of freshmen forwards, Dakota Joshua and Brendon Kearney, for the first game of the weekend series against Penn State.
“Someone’s going to have to step up. When your name is called or number is called, everyone can step in at any kind of situation,” Dalrymple said. “I don’t expect just because Josh isn’t in the lineup it’ll bring us down. Maybe some guys will rise to the occasion.”
Healey leads all Buckeyes defensemen with 12 points, scoring four goals and notching eight assists this season, including points in 10 of the squad’s last 12 games.
“Key” special-teams battle
Despite Michigan State’s less-than-stellar record, it does have one standout aspect of its game: The Spartans’ penalty kill is first in the Big Ten, stopping 74 of 88 chances.
“They do a very good job of collapsing, and they do a very good job of blocking shots, and they’ve got a very good goaltender, so all those things add up to a good penalty kill,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got to create some things and just got to get more traffic and more pucks to the net, but certainly special teams will be a key.”
The Spartans’ senior netminder, Jake Hildebrand, currently has a 5-16-1 record with a .894 save percentage. Last season, Hildebrand was named a first-team All-American, and the Big Ten’s player of the year and goaltender of the year.
“They’ve got a good guy in between the pipes there,” Gust said. “We’ve got to make sure we get better chances, and we’ve got to bear down and execute on them.”
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have been taking advantage of the power play in their last five games. They have scored a power-play goal in each of those games, notching six scores from 17 chances.
Gust has been a big contributor to those points, collecting a point in each of his last 11 games.
“Just keep eating the same stuff before the game,” Gust said with a smile. “I’m just taking every game one step at a time, and points have just been coming my way.”
The puck is set to drop at the Schottenstein Center on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and the following day at 7 p.m.