Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletic Department
The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team has been looking forward to this weekend’s series against Michigan for months, and for one OSU player, years.
The No.2-ranked Buckeyes host the No.15-ranked Wolverines in a two-game series starting Friday in Columbus. The next day, both teams will travel to Cleveland to play in the “Frozen Diamond Faceoff” on Sunday at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, where OSU will serve as the home team.
“Everyone is super excited,” said OSU senior defenseman Sean Duddy. “It’s going to be a great weekend.”
Sunday’s game will be the first outdoor collegiate hockey game played in Ohio. It will be the Buckeyes second game outside, as OSU faced Wisconsin in the “Frozen Tundra Classic” on Feb. 11, 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc. OSU lost, 4-2.
Michigan played Michigan State last December in “The Big Chill at the Big House,” at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The game set a world hockey record with an official attendance of 113,411. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 5-0.
OSU coach Mark Osiecki said his players have been anticipating this weekend’s series, Sunday’s game in particular, since the “Frozen Diamond Faceoff” was scheduled in August.
“I think they’re pretty excited. We’re going to have to try to keep their emotions in check a bit,” Osiecki said. “They’re looking forward to it.”
Duddy said he has been dreaming about playing in an outdoor hockey game of this stature since he was a kid. He is from Ann Arbor and was in attendance for the “Cold War,” the first-ever outdoor hockey game in North America, played between Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 6, 2001, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Duddy said. “At the time I never thought (outdoor hockey) would become such a regular thing. Now that it has, and I have the opportunity to play in one, it’s definitely a dream come true.”
OSU senior goalie Cal Heeter agreed.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience to be able to play in front of 40,000 fans at a professional baseball stadium,” he said.
While Sunday’s historic game is getting a lot of attention, both games have equal importance for the Buckeyes.
Heeter said that right now, OSU is simply focused on Friday’s game.
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” he said. “For us right now, Friday’s the most important game. We’ll get to Sunday when it’s Sunday.”
The two games count the same in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings, where both teams are fighting for a conference title.
OSU, 14-4-3 this season, has a 10-3-3-1-conference record and currently has a seven-point lead in first place over second-place Notre Dame.
Michigan, 12-8-4, 6-6-4-1 in the CCHA, is in seventh place and trails OSU by 11 points, but has won five of their last seven games.
The Buckeyes swept Michigan on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19 in Ann Arbor, 2-1 and 6-5, respectively. The sweep was the first for OSU against the Wolverines on the road since 1986, and the first against Michigan in any arena since 1989 in a home-and-home series.
The Michigan team OSU faced in November is not the same team that the Buckeyes will be playing this weekend.
Jon Merrill, a sophomore defenseman for the Wolverines, had to sit out November’s contests against OSU while serving a 22-game suspension for violating team rules. He will be back on the ice this weekend, and looks to be a major factor.
Merrill was the 38th overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft by the New Jersey Devils. The sophomore made his CCHA debut on Jan. 9 against Lake Superior State and had two assists in a 4-2 Michigan victory.
“He’s a world-class player. He’s going to play a lot in the NHL for a long period of time,” Osiecki said.
Even though Michigan is currently ranked 15th in the USCHO poll, and stand outside the top of the CCHA standings, Osiecki said he believes they are an elite team.
“That team is a top-five team in the country, no doubt about it,” he said.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines will drop the puck Friday in Columbus at 7:35 p.m. and face off again Sunday in Cleveland at 5:05 p.m.