When an elite offensive team matches up against an elite defensive team, the winning team is usually the one that stuck with the strategy that made it so successful in the first place.
On Friday night, No. 14 Ohio State (21-11-6) will travel to Fargo, North Dakota, to take on No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (25-6-7) in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
According to USCHO.com, OSU comes into the game with the No. 2 scoring offense, while Duluth brings the No. 11 scoring defense. This sets up to be a battle between two strengths that have rarely faltered for both teams this season. Duluth’s freshman goaltender Hunter Miska is tied for fourth in the nation for most shutouts in the season, with five. The Bulldogs limit their opponents to an average of 2.29 goals per game. Those statistics are a sign that the Bulldogs’ defense is powerful and will present one of the toughest challenges yet for this Buckeye offense.
That being said, OSU will not be pressed to make any changes to their style of play.
“It’s about us, really, to be honest. We have to go up there and stick with our game plan,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “We understand who they are and what they are, but we can’t change who we are.”
Instead, Rohlik realizes the factors that must flourish from OSU’s style of play.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about that little extra (effort),” he said. “That’s why we preach it Monday through Thursday. We know it’s going to be tough, and they’re a good hockey team. We’ve got respect for them, but we’re certainly not fearing them.”
With games against high-quality tournament teams such as Denver, Air Force, Penn State and Minnesota, it’s no surprise the Buckeyes are heading into Friday night with such high hopes.
From a player’s point of view, the ideal strategy remains rather simple.
“We’ve played a lot of top-five teams and a lot of good goalies all year,” sophomore forward Mason Jobst said. “I think we’ve just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. We’re highly offensive and highly skilled. We’ve just got to continue to shoot pucks and work hard.”
The hard-working mentality has stuck with this program throughout the entire season. The team’s 3.97 goals per game average stems from their ability to play a consistent, high-energy game with efficient play from all four offensive lines.
Puck drop is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU. If the Buckeyes beat the Bulldogs, they would play the winner of the game between North Dakota and Boston University on Saturday at 6 p.m.