March 23, 2013 marked the final game of Mark Osiecki’s three-year tenure at the helm of Ohio State hockey. The Buckeyes lost 3-1 to Notre Dame in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association semifinal. Osiecki has fired and then-assistant Steve Rohlik was promoted.
Rohlik and Osiecki were not only teammates on Wisconsin’s 1990 national championship team, they were both captains, with Rohlik donning the ‘C’ and Osiecki an ‘A.’
Following that title, the two went through various coaching stints around the country, including two more NCAA championships for Osiecki as an assistant at North Dakota in 1997 and Wisconsin in 2006.
A portion of Minnesota-Duluth’s 2011 national championship roster can be credited to Rohlik, who served as an assistant there for 10 seasons from 2001-2010 before reuniting with Osiecki in Columbus.
“I was in such a great spot at Duluth for 10 years,” Rohlik said. “I was treated so well and we had a great thing going. But in this game, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. To me, it was kind of about the Big Ten. It was before the league, but there was talk that it was going to happen.”
Rohlik, now in his fourth year guiding the Buckeyes, is set to face his close friend for the first time on Thursday since their separation almost four years ago.
“I got the opportunity to be here because of him,” Rohlik said. “He’s coached at a lot of different levels. He loves the game, he’s passionate about the game. He’s very organized and detailed and those are some of the things, for me, that I’ve learned that can help me.”
Osiecki spent the last two seasons with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League before becoming part of the massive regime change in Madison that saw Tony Granato replace Mike Eaves as head coach.
Rohlik, who played with all three of Wisconsin’s coaching trio during his career as a Badger, currently has the Scarlet and Gray ranked as the No. 8 team in the country, their highest ranking since they were No. 6 on Jan. 23, 2012, under Osiecki.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, has started to turn things around. After just 12 wins the past two seasons combined, the Badgers are 11-8-1 and coming off a weekend split against No. 6 Minnesota in Madison.
“They’ve done a great job coming in and putting a spark in the program, but let’s not forget they’ve got some great hockey players when you look up and down their lineup,” Rohlik said. “It’s been a perfect mesh, and they’re a team to be reckoned with.”
The Badger-Buckeye coaching connections don’t stop there.
After the departure of OSU assistant Brett Larson in the summer of 2015, another former Badger was brought into the fold on the Buckeye bench, Mark Strobel.
Strobel, a standout defenseman for Wisconsin in the early 1990s, reached the NCAA tournament final in 1992 and was captain for his junior and senior years.
“I think it’s something you’ll always have the rest of your life, being an alumni wherever you played college hockey,” Strobel said. “You wish them well as an alumni but we’ve got to take care of our backyard and we want to do what’s right for our program. I like to see them do well against everyone but us.”
When the game starts on Thursday, history, connections and friendships are all secondary.
What matters to the coaches involved is OSU and Wisconsin, facing off for the 25th time in history.
“Obviously, how can I not think of what happened (at Wisconsin),” Rohlik said. “To win a national title, to be a two-time captain and play with the guys I played with. Those memories are forever. At this point for me, it’s all about Ohio State. I bleed Ohio State every day, and there’s no other place I’d rather be right now. I’m here just to carry on the tradition.”
Puck drop between OSU and Wisconsin is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Schottenstein Center, with Saturday’s contest taking place at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City.