In the 2014-15 season, the Ohio State men’s hockey team opened up its season at home against the Providence Friars. The Buckeyes split the series, but little did they know at the time they were facing the eventual national champions.
Now opening the 2016-17 season as the second favorite to win the Big Ten conference, OSU will face a legitimate title contender in the third-ranked Denver Pioneers.
OSU’s offense was sharp early and often against Wilfrid-Laurier University in an exhibition on Oct. 2. The team scored two goals in the first period, then followed that up with four more in the second, including a hat trick from sophomore forward Dakota Joshua. Against Denver, the Buckeyes will face a faster, bigger, more skilled team who poses a significant barrier for OSU’s highly potent offense; a threshold senior captain forward Nick Schilkey and the rest of the team didn’t have to confront in its exhibition.
“We’ve talked about their speed versus our speed. We know if we make a mistake, they’re going to be right down our throats,” Schilkey said. “We’re excited to play one of the top teams in the country.”
The No. 3 Pioneers were an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament last season out of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and eventually made the Frozen Four for the program’s 15th time. Fifth-year coach Jim Montgomery returns five of his top 10 goal scorers and four of his top 10 points leaders from a season ago.
Sophomore forward Dylan Gambrell was a force in his inaugural season in 2015-16, finishing second on the team in goals (17), assists (30) and points.On the backline, senior defenseman Will Butcher was a captain on last year’s Frozen Four team and will continue to be an integral part of a Denver defense which ranked 15th in the country with 2.34 goals allowed per game in 2015-16.
Besides the caliber of play Denver possesses, OSU will have to deal with an external factor: the altitude.
For any team in any sport, playing in Denver hosts the issue of being able to perform at a high altitude. The University of Denver is at an estimated 5,345 feet above sea level, compared to Columbus being at 746 feet. Junior forward Christian Lampasso said that he’s taking extra precautions before Friday’s game.
“I’m a little scared. I’ve got a little bit of asthma so I’m bringing all of my inhalers,” Lampasso said.
Coach Steve Rohlik has a group of seniors this season that he hasn’t had in his previous three years at Ohio State. After last season’s 0-8 start, the Buckeyes are looking to get off to a fast start and be considered among the elite teams in college hockey. Going into Denver, Lampasso said last season’s brutal beginning is water under the bridge.
“I don’t think our guys need to be reminded of how we’ve done in the past. They know that,” Rohlik said. “I go back to the parity of college hockey … anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”
Rohlik said on Wednesday that he wasn’t sure who would start in net between senior goaltenders Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins. Frey started the exhibition game, and Tomkins entered the contest in the second period. Rohlik said he was pleased with their play. Frey allowed one goal on 13 shots. Tomkins faced 12 shots and allowed a powerplay goal.
Following its game against Denver at the IceBreaker Tournament, the Buckeyes will face either Boston College or Air Force. Boston College is ranked fifth in the USCHO.com preseason poll.
“I think it gives us an early look at what we are, who we are and where we stand,” Rohlik said. “We know we’re going to have our hands full and we got to play our best game.”