The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team is heading into a two-game series against Niagara University on the heels of a split series with No. 20-ranked Minnesota Duluth.
The Buckeyes (4-4-0, 0-0-0) are set to take on the Purple Eagles (1-4-1, 1-1-1) in the midst of a seven-game homestand, something OSU freshman goalie Matt Tomkins sees as being “huge” for the team at this point in the season.
“We love playing here and kind of getting in the groove,” Tomkins said. “It’s been great so far that we’ve been on a little bit of a run, and it’s going to continue to pay off that we get to continue to play at home in front of our home crowd.”
Tomkins added that the homestand is crucial to picking up some momentum as the team heads into Big Ten Conference play, which starts Nov. 29.
“Obviously, winning four out of five (games) is huge,” he said. “Having this homestand gives us a great opportunity to continue this roll here moving forward, and it’s a very positive attitude in the locker room.”
There is also the potential that junior forward Tanner Fritz, who sustained an upper-body injury in OSU’s 4-3 loss against Bowling Green Oct. 15, might be back in the lineup for the series. Coach Steve Rohlik said he’s been skating and that he’s “optimistic that we might see him in action this weekend.” Fritz’s return, though, can’t allow the team to become complacent.
“Hopefully, our team doesn’t let down and think that since we have one of our best players back, they can drop their guard a little bit,” Rohlik said. “I think this is an opportunity, and I hope that having one of our better players back makes everybody better.”’
Looking forward, Rohlik said the team will have to continue building momentum — in the series against Niagara and beyond — in order to get where it wants to be.
“We’ve got build on what we did this weekend against Duluth. If we have any kind of letdown, we’re in for a rude awakening,” Rohlik said. “Our guys have to build on the momentum, they’ve got to build on their work ethic … if we do that, we’re going give ourselves the best chance to have success.”
He added that the team’s competitiveness and consistency, two things it struggled with early this season, have improved greatly and will have to continue to do so.
“We’re still a little up-and-down at times … but if you can get the compete and the consistency, I think you’re going to have a good hockey team,” Rohlik said.
Junior forward Nick Oddo said “sticking to (their) systems” while also “tweaking the details,” has made the Buckeyes an overall better team.
OSU has not faced Niagara since 2000, but Rohlik said the Buckeyes must come out ready to play or the outcome won’t be what they want.
“If we don’t come out and play our best hockey, we’re in trouble,” he said.
The Buckeyes and the Purple Eagles are slated to face off this weekend, with the puck set to drop at 7:05 p.m. Friday and 8:05 p.m. Saturday.