The Ohio State men’s hockey team (9-17-2, 4-8-2) is preparing for its final homestand of the season at the Schottenstein Center and is looking to take advantage of a struggling Wisconsin (6-15-7, 1-10-3) team.
The last-place Badgers arrive in Columbus on a four-game winless streak; their last win was back on Jan. 30 in Madison, Wisconsin, against Alaska. Their lone Big Ten victory was a 3-0 result against Michigan State in December.
The Buckeyes are undefeated against the Badgers this season. In their two games at the Kohl Center in early January, the Scarlet and Gray grabbed a win and a tie.
“We’ve got a ton of respect for Wisconsin. They’re as good as anybody. Their record doesn’t show it, neither does ours, but at times people like as us say, ‘Jeez, they play some really quality games,’” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “Wisconsin’s kind of in that same boat. Watching the video over last weekend, they probably deserved to win two games and ended up not winning either one.”
Rohlik played for Wisconsin from 1987 to 1990, where he was a two-time captain and hoisted the 1990 NCAA championship trophy with the “C” on his jersey. He was also an assistant coach for the Badgers during the 1990-91 season.
Senior forward Tyler Lundey, a Wisconsin native, said he is hoping to carry the momentum from last Saturday’s victory over Penn State and look past the blowout loss the night before.
“It was definitely a big win Saturday night at Penn State. We learned our lesson Friday night. Wisconsin is one of those teams that are always going to come at you. They’re going to work hard,” Lundey said. “It’s kind of our game plan too. Work hard, stick together, play as a team, and get ready to play some playoff hockey.”
Tale of two goalies
Rohlik might have a bit of a decision to make between the pipes this weekend. His junior goaltenders, Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins, started Friday’s and Saturday’s games, respectively, against Penn State. While Tomkins fared much better against the Nittany Lions, Rohlik said he remains confident in both of his netminders heading into the series.
“We always talk as a staff like today here after practice and kind of put our whole lineup together for the games. (Pulling Frey) I did more or less that just to get our team spark going there on Friday night. Wasn’t really necessarily his fault,” Rohlik said. “I just figured (Tomkins) has been practicing hard and deserved a chance to get in there and play, so we’ll evaluate and see what happens here.”
Frey leads the Buckeyes’ shot stoppers in save percentage with .920 in 17 games played, while Tomkins has posted a .892 percentage in 13 games.
“We score a lot of goals”
The Buckeye offense will have to pile on the shots against a determined Badgers defense. Coach Mike Eaves’ men continue to be one of the top teams in the nations in blocked shots. Wisconsin ranks 16th in the country with 14.07 blocks per outing. Senior defensemen Eddie Wittchow and Kevin Schulze are ranked nationally at sixth and 13th, respectively.
“They do a really good job blocking shots,” Lundey said. “We score a lot of goals from the hash marks and ends, so our goal is to score relatively close. A big part is getting shots on net initially, getting pucks through, and then cleaning them up.”
Senior defenseman and co-captain Craig Dalrymple said he isn’t too worried about the defense having to contribute more on offense, but rather playing to each position’s strengths.
“As a defenseman, and all the other defensemen on the team, we kind of always want to chip in on the scoresheet at the end of the day, which is always nice. I don’t think we’re really going to change our type of play,” Dalrymple said. “When there are chances, the defensemen are going to jump up into the play. If we kind of go out of our element, we can run into trouble.”
The Scarlet and Gray will look to junior forward and co-captain Nick Schilkey to continue his fine form. Schilkey was named the Big Ten Second Star of the Week on Tuesday after a conference-best five-point performance last week, with a goal and four assists against Penn State.
The Buckeyes will also face another staunch penalty-killing opponent in the Badgers. Wisconsin sits 14th in the nation with a kill ratio of .849. OSU, on the other hand, is one of the country’s best power-play converters, coming in at 12th nationally with a .214 conversion rate.
Senior night at the Schott
With the team entering the final homestand of the season at the Schottenstein Center, Saturday’s game will mark its senior night. Dalrymple, Lundey and forward and co-captain Anthony Greco will be recognized prior to the matchup.
“Every year, you know it’s coming. It’ll be fun. It’ll be important to enjoy it and have fun and hopefully get the win,” Greco said.
Rohlik hailed his senior members and said he hopes the rest of the squad can follow their examples.
“Find me anybody in that locker room, you want to play for each other, but you also want to give a little extra for those three guys,” Rohlik said. “Someday, some of those other guys will be sitting in those same shoes, and you want everybody to give their best effort.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday and at 7 p.m. the following evening.