On the verge of the Big Ten tournament next week in Detroit, the No. 15 Ohio State men’s hockey team (18-10-6, 9-8-1-1) closes out its regular-season schedule with one final road trip to take on the Wisconsin Badgers for two conference clashes.
The No. 16 Badgers (19-12-1, 12-6-0-0) swept the first meeting between both sides in late January, earning a 3-1 victory at the Schottenstein Center in the first game, and a 3-2 overtime win at Madison Square Garden in the second.
Both the Buckeyes and Badgers are in contention for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers rest in a tie with Notre Dame for the No. 13 spot in the PairWise rankings — the de facto Division I college hockey bracketology. The Scarlet and Gray find themselves at No. 17 — one spot outside the teams that are ultimately selected.
OSU senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey — who missed the first two contests against Wisconsin due to injury — said he and the Buckeyes are aware of the situation both teams find themselves in.
“Both teams are playing for that (NCAA) tournament bid right now, and we can easily flip-flop with them, or they can really solidify themselves to get the automatic bid in the tournament,” Schilkey said. “So, certainly, this is a playoff-type weekend for us.”
Additionally, a relatively young Badgers roster has relied on its underclassmen since the first two meetings with the Scarlet and Gray to propel them into second place in the Big Ten standings.
Wisconsin sophomore forward Luke Kunin has registered 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his last 10 games. Freshman forward Trent Frederic is also heating up on the ice with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) during that span.
Despite his absence in the first series, Schilkey said he watched the two games and saw OSU possess a number of chances to score and change the final result. He also said the Buckeyes’ personnel and game plan will be vital in order to have success this weekend.
“I think we match up really well against their defense as forwards,” Schilkey said. “If we can sustain offense in their end, we can dominate all night.”
As the regular season comes to a close this weekend, OSU sits on the edge of sealing its first NCAA tournament berth since 2009. The Buckeyes will earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs with a Big Ten tournament championship.
Despite having postseason aspirations on the line in the coming weeks, Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said that his squad’s mindset is centered on one thing: Game 1, Friday night.
“The only thing we can control right now is Friday,” Rohlik said. “That’s all we’re really focused on right now, is to go up there and try to play our best hockey game Friday against a very good team in their barn — and they’re playing for an awful lot as well. Our focus really, to be honest with you, is to trying to put a 60-minute game together Friday night.”
Puck drop from the Kohl Center Friday and Saturday night is slated for 8 p.m.