Six crucial Big Ten points are on the line this weekend as the No. 14 Ohio State men’s hockey team (14-8-6, 5-6-1-1) travels to East Lansing, Michigan, for two conference clashes against the Michigan State Spartans.
The Buckeyes will again be without senior defender Josh Healey, who was suspended for this weekend’s series after delivering a hit to the head of an opponent against Minnesota on Feb. 11. This marks Healey’s second suspension in the last three weeks, and fourth in 15 months.
Leading all Scarlet and Gray defenders with 20 points this season, Healey’s absence leaves a sizable gap in the OSU defense — and coach Steve Rohlik said his associate captain is aware of his suspension’s effect on the team.
“It’s disappointing to say the least, and he knows that,” Rohlik said. “You just can’t put yourself in that position, and unfortunately, he’s done that. He’s done that more than once, and we’ve certainly had discussions about it.”
The Spartans (6-17-3, 2-8-2-0) come into the weekend after recording just two wins in their last 15 games, including a 4-1 thrashing of Michigan last Saturday. Despite the string of rough results, Rohlik said the struggling Spartans cannot be overlooked.
“Michigan State is a good hockey team, they’re playing their best hockey right now,” Rohlik said. “I’m a broken record, but if we don’t play our best hockey and play consistent, then we’re probably not going to have a good chance to win a hockey game. We know what we’re in store for, and we’ve got to be prepared.”
Last weekend, the Scarlet and Gray allowed six goals in Game Two of the series against the visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers — all of which came on the powerplay.
In light of this, senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey said the focus has been on special teams this week in practice to keep the penalty kill and powerplay sharp. Similarly to his coach, Schilkey added that Michigan State is a capable opponent, and “taking a night off” is not an option for OSU.
“Michigan State is playing good hockey. We went up to Michigan and saw that if we’re not on our game, they can beat us. And it’s going to be no different when we go up to (Michigan) State,” Schilkey said. “(If) we take a night off, anybody can beat us — anybody can beat anybody in this league. So we know that we’ve got to go up there and focus on playing our game.”
Exactly four weeks and eight games separate the Buckeyes from the Big Ten tournament. Furthermore, Rohlik’s side currently sits in the 15th spot in the PairWise rankings for a possible at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
With that said, Schilkey said the postseason has been on the minds of members of the Scarlet and Gray. However, he also emphasized that OSU must play well in the last weeks of the season to position themselves for a shot at a tournament appearance.
“We’ve got to put a couple weekends together here … if we don’t win games down the stretch, then we’re not going to get that at-large bid,” Schilkey said. “So we’ve got to make sure we’re playing our game, and focused on winning games. Don’t worry about the standings too much because that will take care of itself if we do our thing.”
Puck drop from Munn Ice Arena Friday night is set for 7 p.m., while Saturday’s start is slated for 8 p.m.