Kelly Roderick / For The Lantern
The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team heads into the final third of its regular season campaign with plenty to prove.
With an overall record of 8-11-5, the Buckeyes’ 25 points in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association places them seventh out of 11 teams.
OSU will have ample opportunity to make up ground on the teams ahead in the rankings as five of its remaining six conference series come against teams that sit above the Buckeyes in the CCHA standings.
Of those two-game series, four will be held on their home ice at the Schottenstein Center.
After posting a 7-4-3 mark in their first 14 games, the Buckeyes have struggled as of late, posting only one win in their last 10 times out.
“We’ve had a good first half, but we need to get over the hump as a team,” said freshman defenseman Sam Jardine.
OSU has recently gotten four players back from injury, and coach Mark Osiecki said he sees his roster’s improved health as a key to getting over that hump as March’s CCHA Tournament nears.
“It’s important right now to get them back so they get some experience for a month before it really amps up,” Osiecki said.
The team’s recent struggles may be attributable to the absence of former volunteer assistant coach RJ Umberger. Umberger, a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets and former Buckeye, used the NHL lockout as an opportunity to help coach his alma mater and instruct the current members of the Buckeye squad. Players said he had a positive impact on OSU’s performance.
“Everyone took whatever he had to say and we put that towards the ice, that helped us a lot,” said sophomore forward Tanner Fritz.
Throughout the Buckeyes’ ups and downs, senior goalie Brady Hjelle and sophomore forward Ryan Dzingel seemed to have played consistently great hockey. Hjelle is second in the league with a 1.61 goals-against average and his .945 save percentage is second best in the country. Dzingel leads OSU in points (20) and goals (nine). His 11 assists are second only to Fritz’s 13.
Dzingel and Hjelle were recently named to the Hobey Baker Award ballot which is given annually to the NCAA’s best player. No OSU player has ever won the honor.
With the continued production of their top players, along with the added contribution of individuals returning from injury, OSU might have the potential to finish the season on its highest note. A strong showing over the next six weekends would put the team in position to make convincing runs in the CCHA and NCAA tournaments.
The Buckeyes are set to play against Lake Superior State Friday at 7:05 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.