Coming off of two disappointing losses, the Ohio State men’s hockey team (0-2-0) will look to rebound as it hosts the University of Denver Pioneers on Thursday and Friday.
The Buckeyes will be up against one of the more daunting opponents on their schedule as they face the No. 3 team in the U.S. College Hockey Online.
The team’s last series against Quinnipiac was difficult to swallow. Quinnipiac played with 10 inexperienced freshmen in their lineup and dominated against OSU’s roster filled with talented juniors and sophomores.
“The effort certainly wasn’t there,” coach John Markell said. “Some guys tried to do too much in critical situations, and that’s where they have to keep it simple. We have to learn what it takes to win games.”
The Buckeyes’ next opponent, Denver, is ranked near the top in the country. The Buckeyes split the series at Denver last season, winning 4-3 and losing 3-1.
Coming off of a season in which they went 23-12-5, the Pioneers return 21 letterwinners from last season. Denver will also host one of the most talented recruiting classes in collegiate hockey.
Some notable returning seniors for the Pioneers are forwards Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Rakhshani, who had an opportunity sign with the New York Islanders, returns as the team’s leading goal scorer.
Sophomores Patrick Wiercioch and Joe Colborne, who were members of the All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association Rookie Team last season, lead a terrific underclassman group. Wiercioch is one of the most elite offensive defenseman in collegiate hockey, as he led all WCHA rookie blue liners in goals, points and assists.
On top of these exceptionally talented returning players, the Pioneers are bringing in an elite freshman class. Notable incoming freshmen are defensemen Matt Donovan, forward Drew Shore and defenseman William Wrenn.
The upcoming contests would seem to be must-win games for the Buckeyes to get back on track, but Markell thinks otherwise.
“The question I posed to the team is ‘is this a must-win weekend?'” he said. “Its not a must-win weekend, it’s a want-to-win weekend. There is a big difference about how you feel about yourself and how you’re going to react.”
Markell respects Denver’s impressive roster, but he is focused on the bigger picture.
“They are a good hockey team and have a lot of depth,” he said. “At this point of the year I am concentrating on us. But they can’t come here and outwork us in our old building.”
Looking to the rest of the season, Markell believes his team has the ability to go a long way, but he is looking for the intangibles to emerge from his players.
“We know that the players on paper have the talent,” he said. “Their job is to come and compete against every opponent that’s out there. Because if we don’t do that and come up short you get beat in college hockey.”
Thursday’s contest versus Denver will be played at 7 p.m. at Value City Arena and Friday’s game will be played at 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena.