The Ohio State men’s club hockey team is learning the power of commitment through second-year head coach Mark Runco.
Just one year ago, the Buckeyes finished in the bottom five of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II Southeast region standings with a paltry record of 2-17-2. Now, sitting at 11-6-2, the Buckeyes’ goal of making it to the regional tournament is within reach.
“It’s a lofty goal coming off the heels of a 2-17 season,” Runco said. “But I just felt that we had the talent there, and if we put a little bit of commitment into it, a little more direction and more structure, that we could go that way.”
Runco, who joined the coaching staff in December 2014, is a self-proclaimed competitor who “doesn’t like to lose at anything” and expects the same drive out of his team.
“I don’t want players who approach it as a rec league. I want there to be some serious commitment, because there is a regional tournament to go to, there is a national tournament to go to,” Runco said. “We’re playing against schools that this is their only option for hockey, so we have to approach it that way, too. Our guys battle and they want to win for their school as much as anyone playing a D-1 sport.”
The new attitude off the ice and the team’s close-knit nature have been the biggest factors in the turnaround, according to junior center Eric Sperli.
“Our biggest strength is our camaraderie, we’re a close group of guys and it shows on the ice,” Sperli said. “This year we have a more stable system, and we’re more focused and hardworking in trying to get wins and make it to regionals.”
Senior defenseman Peter Myeroff, who serves as the club president, also credits the improved record to the new mentality.
“The biggest thing is the culture change this year. We’ve stressed a lot of being on time, being responsible, everybody playing their role and playing as a team, not individually,” Myeroff said.
However, Myeroff said that club sports aren’t only about winning to the extent that a varsity or professional sport is.
“While we want to compete for sure, we want to go to regionals, we want to go to nationals, we want to win games, guys are here to meet people, have fun, make friends and have a good time,” Myeroff said. “We try to find a balance.”
In order to reach regionals, the Buckeyes still have an uphill battle.
“Every game is important right now,” Runco said. “We dropped a few games that I don’t think we should have dropped, and that’s just where we’re at. We need to win every game.”
Sperli, who plans to take over as president next season, said that regardless of where the team finishes this season, the future is bright for the club program with Runco guiding the way.
“We’re definitely going to go upwards. In the past, we didn’t have the mentality and the structure of winning games,” Sperli said. “Coach Mark is really helping with that and getting the team under control. I think we’re on the upswing.”
The OSU men’s hockey club is scheduled to participate in an outdoor tournament in Detroit on Friday and Saturday and finish its regular season in an away series against Penn State on Feb. 12 and 13.