Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
For Ohio State and rest of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the 42nd and final CCHA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament will begin this weekend with first-round series at various campus sites. Western Michigan will look to defend its title, and the eventual champion will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Due to conference re-alignment across the college hockey landscape, the CCHA will disband at the end of postseason play. OSU is set to join the six-team Big Ten Ice Hockey Conference in its inaugural season.
The fourth-place Buckeyes will enjoy a first-round bye as the field is narrowed from 11 teams to eight.
OSU coach Mark Osiecki said the week off is nice to have with his squad’s recent injuries on the defensive end. Sophomore defenseman Al McLean and junior defenseman Curtis Gedig have missed a combined 10 games since Gedig left a contest against Notre Dame on Feb. 1 with a wrist injury.
“It’s going to help us to have a week off to heal up, get (Gedig) a little bit more healthy, hopefully get Al McLean back, and see what we can do,” Osiecki said.
OSU will return to action for a quarterfinal series with Ferris State on March 15. Game two will be played the following night, with game three on March 17 in the case of a split series. The winner will move on to play in the semifinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich., on March 23.
Due to the Schottenstein Center’s hosting of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Girls Basketball State Tournament, the Buckeyes will face off with the Bulldogs at the OSU Ice Rink instead of their usual home rink.
Despite the limited size of the building, which seats only about 1,000 people compared to the Schottenstein Center’s 17,500 seats, OSU’s coaching staff and players said they are excited to play playoff hockey in Columbus in front of their own fans.
“I think home ice certainly is going to help us. It’s going to be interesting playing at the (OSU) Ice Rink,” Osiecki said.
Sophomore forward Tanner Fritz said the venue might offer some features the spacious Schottenstein Center does not.
“The atmosphere there will be crazy. I think there’ll be a lot of buzz around campus. I think it’ll be a lot of fun for us,” Fritz said.
Fritz will look to energize the crowd with his offensive production. The Alberta, Canada, native led the CCHA in conference scoring with 34 points. The February Warrior CCHA Player of the Month was gracious of the support his team offered him throughout the season.
“It’s a great accomplishment. I just have to thank the coaches, my teammates and especially my line mates for helping,” Fritz said of winning the league’s final scoring title.
Even with the conference’s most dangerous offensive threat, OSU associate head coach Steve Rohlik said the team must continue to improve in practice over the next two weeks.
“It’s playoff hockey time, so we’ve certainly got to get better,” Rohlik said.
The Buckeyes are seeking their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009 after their best regular season since finishing second in the CCHA in 2005.
Game one of the quarterfinal series is set to begin at 7:05 p.m. on March 15.