The Buckeyes host Ontario-based Wilfrid-Laurier University on Sunday in its annual exhibition game prior to the start of the regular season, which begins Oct. 7 against No. 3 Denver. OSU started last season with eight straight losses, and with the majority of ‘15-’16 roster returning, coach Steve Rohlik is looking for an indicator his team can get off to a fast start in 2016-17.
“It should be a fun year with these guys,” Rohlik said. “We got five freshmen and two transfers so I don’t exactly know what we have yet but it’s fun to be on the ice with these guys.”
Per NCAA guidelines, Rohlik and his staff were on the ice full-time with the team for the first time on Saturday. Before that, the coaches could spend up to two hours a week on the ice with the players. Senior captains Drew Brevig, Nick Schilkey and Josh Healey would also lead practices when Rohlik couldn’t be on the ice in the offseason.
Senior goaltender Christian Frey said that the team learned to hold each other accountable without the authority of the coaches. Frey added that the chemistry on the team is 100 percent the best he has had since his time at OSU.
“I think we weren’t as close as a team as we needed to be (last year),” Frey said. “I think we were hot at the end of the year (my) sophomore year, so last year we kind of just expected that to happen.”
The Buckeyes were picked to finish second in the Big Ten Conference this year after finishing fourth out of six teams last season. OSU lost just four players and returned nine of its 10 leading scorers. On paper, OSU is a contender in the conference and a possible player in the NCAA tournament picture, but Rohlik has made a point to the players that the accolades must be earned.
“We do have the talent here and if you do that and have the hard work and mental part of it, you can go out there and win games,” Rohlik said. “You want to be the team expected to win. That’s the switch you want to flip on right now.”
Rohlik is treating Sunday’s exhibition as a “shaking-off-the-cobwebs” game. He said it’s a chance for him to see the young guys get their feet wet in their first game action.
The Buckeyes brought in five freshmen this season, all of whom Rohlik hopes he can play. Freshman forward Tanner Laczynski might be the most exciting newcomer to watch, having been drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL draft.
“(Laczynski’s) got a lot of skill and he’s a big guy. He’s very mature body wise. He’s developed already,” said senior forward David Gust. “(Freshman forward) Sam McCormick is a skill guy. He’s got a great set of hands on him. (Freshman defender) Gordi (Myer), he’s real quiet and he lets his play speak for itself.”
Wilfrid-Laurier has posted a 2-2 record this season playing in the Ontario University Athletics West conference — not affiliated with the NCAA. Forward Derek Schoenmakers leads the Golden Hawks with three goals, but its defense suffers, allowing 4.25 goals per game.
OSU ended last season at 6-2-1 in its final nine games. The Buckeyes ranked ninth in the nation in 2015-16 in goals scored. For success in his final season, senior defender Drew Brevig said the team made great progress mentally in the offseason which should contribute to a quick start.
“I think the place we are at this year is better than we were last year,” Brevig said. “Our whole group is very close. We have one common goal so I think we are ready to go.”