Tim Kubick / For The Lantern
The Ohio State men’s hockey team is set to take on Michigan State in a two-game series that could vault OSU into first place of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association by the end of the weekend.
The Buckeyes are in a three-way tie for second place in their conference, and will attempt to make up ground on the first place Miami Redhawks on Friday and Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.
The Buckeyes’ 4-2-2-1 record has them tied with Notre Dame and Ferris State for second place.
Miami leads the league by only one point with a record of 4-2-2-2.
“We’ve got a chance to be in first if we have a good weekend and things go our way,” said senior goalie Brady Hjelle.
The Buckeyes are especially focused as they will be battling another CCHA team.
“It’s extremely important within league play to find a way to chip away and get a point,” said coach Mark Osiecki.
With the Redhawks leading by a single point, the pressure is increased to win in regulation and earn the maximum three points.
Michigan State is coming off a series where they were swept by league-leading Miami and only managed to score in one period of the two-game set.
This offensive drought could continue as the Spartans take on the Buckeyes and Hjelle, who is currently third in the NCAA in both save percentage and goals-against average. His .950 save percentage and 1.45 GAA should give OSU an excellent chance to get a sweep and potentially pass the Redhawks for first place in the CCHA.
For his performance in the team’s last series against Lake Superior State, Hjelle was named CCHA goaltender of the week for the second time this season.
However, there is no guarantee Hjelle will start both games.
Throughout the season the Buckeyes have rotated goalies in order to help both Hjelle and freshman goalie Collin Olson gain experience.
“It is a philosophy right now where we are trying to get both goaltenders going,” Osiecki said.
The philosophy didn’t work very well against Lake Superior State. Hjelle started the first game and only allowed one goal in a Buckeye win.
Olson started the second game but was pulled in the first period after giving up two goals.
Getting Olson experience will likely pay dividends for the team next year after Hjelle is gone, but that doesn’t stop the coaching staff from losing sleep over missed opportunities to win games this year.
“I woke up at 4:55 in the morning, walking around the house going, ‘I should have played Brady (Hjelle),'” Osiecki said.
It could be a different story this week.
In the series against the Spartans, Hjelle might get the opportunity to start both games if he plays well in the first.
“Brady’s done extremely well,” Osiecki said. “Has he earned that right to go back-to-back nights? Certainly, if he plays well Friday he probably has.”
To help generate offense, the Buckeyes have been focusing on their power play attack this week in practice, said sophomore forward Max McCormick.
Michigan State’s recent offensive woes, combined with OSU’s excellent defense, have the Buckeyes as a favorite on paper.
However, despite the statistics skewing in OSU’s favor, the team is ready to play an important series against a tough team in a harsh environment.
“This is big just like any other series. Three points each night,” Hjelle said. “We want to get as many as we can, especially on the road where it’s tough to play.”
The team is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a fun atmosphere against a good (CCHA) team,” said sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel.
OSU needs to gain as many of the six potential points as it can if it wants to move past Miami and into first place in the CCHA.
“Find a way to get points. That’s the bottom line,” Osiecki said.