Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
Ohio State men’s hockey senior goaltender Brady Hjelle knew how important last Saturday’s game at Alaska was for him and his team.
Coming off a 6-1 loss against the Nanooks the night before, Hjelle surrendered four goals in 30 minutes of playing time before being pulled in favor of freshman Collin Olsen.
Hjelle said he just needed to put that game behind him.
“Friday night was a bad game for me, and we didn’t play well as a team either,” he said. “You just gotta learn to put that behind you and be ready to go.”
He did just that, stopping 26 of 27 Alaska shots the following night, playing the entire game and helping the Buckeyes earn a 3-1 victory.
The two teams entered the final period tied, 1-1, and Hjelle did his part to keep the Nanooks from scoring as he recorded 12 saves in the stanza.
OSU coach Mark Osiecki called Saturday a great response from Friday night’s loss for Hjelle and the rest of the team.
“Our guys played extremely well in front of (Brady). He didn’t have a very strong game on Friday along with our team,” Osiecki said. “His response was just how he showed up and played-very businesslike on Saturday after Friday.”
Osiecki even compared OSU to last season’s Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, citing how aggressive the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions were due to having such a solid goalie in net behind them.
“That’s kind of how our team is right now with Brady,” Osiecki said. “Our guys can play aggressive, they can play excited for each other and take opportunities on the offensive side of things. They know they have a brick wall back there.”
Freshman defenseman Sam Jardine agreed with Osiecki, saying it makes playing the game a lot easier knowing Hjelle is behind him defending. He said his teammates still want to do their part to make their goaltender’s job easier.
“Regardless of how good he’s playing we want to do the best job that we can blocking shots and eliminating quality chances,” Jardine said. “I think our (defensive) core is starting to take a lot of pride in that and obviously our success all year has started with Brady.”
Jardine said Hjelle has an upbeat character and is at his best when he is playing with high energy.
Despite this season being only his second at OSU, the 5-foot-11 senior from International Falls, Minn., said he is learning more about being a leader with each passing day. That leadership is something he tries to show daily on the ice, but not necessarily with his voice.
“I’m not the most vocal guy on the team,” Hjelle, who came to OSU after playing two years at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said. “I’m not afraid to speak up when it’s needed, but I’m more of a lead-by-example guy. I just try to come to the rink every day and work hard.”
That hard work is being recognized, as Hjelle received his fifth weekly award of the season when he was named the CCHA Warrior Goaltender of the Week on Feb. 4. The accolade came following OSU’s series split against then No. 9-ranked Notre Dame when Hjelle had a league-high 74 saves, including a career-high 45 in the second game of the weekend, helping his team skate to a 2-2 overtime tie with the Irish.
Osiecki said he was happy with the way that his goaltender stood tall and defended the high number of scoring chances from Notre Dame so his team could earn a point in the CCHA standings.
Hjelle’s 1.78 goals-against average is good for ninth in the NCAA, while his .942 save percentage ranks fifth. Despite the individual awards, he said they are a result of his teammates and their play.
“(The awards) look better on the team,” Hjelle said. “It’s what they are doing in front of me, and it makes my job a lot easier.”
As his senior season starts to wind down, Hjelle is excited for this weekend’s series at home because he knows the importance of the two games.
“We have a big opportunity in front of us,” Hjelle said. “It would be really nice if we could win out, but we are playing some really tough teams and just gotta bring our best effort every game.”
OSU (12-12-6, 11-7-4-1 CCHA) hosts Western Michigan (18-7-5, 14-5-3-1 CCHA) Friday at 7:05 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.