After a tough result in last weekend’s finale against Arizona State, the No. 11 Ohio State men’s hockey team (11-4-5, 2-2-0) returns to conference play, and prepares for a weekend series on the road at top-ranked Penn State in a battle of the nation’s top-two offensive teams.
The Buckeyes will be without senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey for the two road clashes in University Park, Pennsylvania due to a lower body injury. Schilkey is currently third in the nation and first in the Big Ten with 17 goals on the year and sits at the top spot in the nation for power play goals.
Coach Steve Rohlik said it hurts anytime a team loses an offensive weapon like Schilkey, and added that his team will have to truly step up to replace his play on the ice.
“(Injuries are) a part of hockey; it’s part of sports,” Rohlik said. “You’ve got to pick up your bootstraps, you’ve got to work even harder, and everybody else has to pick it up a little bit more. And that’s our attitude.”
The Nittany Lions (16-2-1, 5-1-0) come into the matchup on a three-game winning streak, including a sweep of Michigan State last weekend, and taking the second game in Columbus on Jan. 7.
Penn State owns the top offense in the nation averaging more than four goals per game, and leads the Big Ten in total shots on goal with 910 on the season.
Rohlik said despite the Nittany Lions’ ability to shoot on goal often, he expects that his team’s transition offense off shots will be a key to a successful weekend.
“The biggest thing is that (a high number of shots) keeps everyone focused because things are going to happen in a hurry, and you’ve got to be ready defensively wherever that puck goes,” he said. “It’s not basically always the first shot, it’s about what happens after the shot hits the net or traffic in front.”
Penn State will likely face a familiar foe between the pipes for the Buckeyes in senior goaltender Christian Frey.
Frey, a back-to-back Big Ten Hockey Star of the Week recipient, earned conference recognition two weeks ago against the Nittany Lions. Frey made 46 saves and shutout Penn State on Jan. 6.
The Arlington, Texas, native said because of Penn State’s ability to pile on shots, his play this weekend will be vital to OSU’s success in the series.
“We know they’re going to hit us with shots,” Frey said. “They have quick boards. There’s going to be a lot of rebounds laying around, so hopefully I can just control rebounds and make life easier for the defense in front of me.”
Frey added that his team is aware of the challenge that awaits them this weekend on the ice, and that the team will have to bring extra effort in order to leave Happy Valley with two victories.
“We know we’ve got the number one team in the nation coming up this weekend, so we know we’re going to have to be heavy on them,” he said. “We know that they’re going to be tough on every single puck. They’re going to fight for every battle, so we’ve just got to come in and work hard.”
Puck drop from Pegula Ice Arena on both Friday and Saturday is set for 7 p.m.