With junior forward Tanner Fritz’s return to the lineup came an offensive surge on the ice as the Ohio State men’s hockey team handed Niagara University a two-game sweep over the weekend.
Fritz, who missed five games due to an upper-body injury he sustained in OSU’s loss against Bowling Green Oct. 15, was an offensive powerhouse for the Buckeyes (6-4-0, 0-0-0) with a goal and five assists.
Coach Steve Rohlik said while Fritz performed well, his presence on the ice spurred some life in the team as they took on the Purple Eagles (1-6-1, 1-1-1).
“Obviously, he’s proven himself over the last few years. He’s our quiet leader,” Rohlik said. “He’s not a rah-rah guy. He leads by what he does on the ice … He’s certainly a big part of our team, and as a coach, it’s nice to know he’s in our lineup.”
Junior forward Max McCormick said Fritz’s versatility — being able to do everything, anywhere on the ice — is what sets him apart as such an important component of the Buckeyes’ lineup.
“He does everything,” McCormick said. “He does the little things — he blocks shots, he chips pucks, he makes great plays, he snipes, he does it all — so it’s great having him back.”
After the opening period Saturday, the Buckeyes led Niagara, 2-0, off goals from McCormick and junior forward Ryan Dzingel.
OSU widened the gap in the second stanza, as freshman forward Nick Schilkey, junior forward Matt Johnson and Dzingel scored, giving the Buckeyes a 5-0 lead. The Purple Eagles answered at 8:30 with a goal from freshman forward Stephen Pietrobon, but McCormick canceled it out with another goal of his own at 15:00 to give the Buckeyes a 6-1 advantage.
With the lead, OSU played more conservatively in the third period, and neither team scored. Overall, the game saw an aggressive OSU squad, who took 37 shots, compared to the Purple Eagles’ 16.
The Buckeyes played the majority of the game without their starting goalie, freshman Matt Tomkins, who suffered and injury and was replaced by freshman Logan Davis at 3:44. Rohlik said Tomkins is “day-to-day,” and was pleased with Davis’ performance, in which he made 14 saves and allowed only one goal on the night.
“Logan did fantastic,” Rohlik said. “That’s what we expect out of him. That’s why he’s part of this team, and that’s why he comes to practice every day. He works extremely hard, so we wouldn’t expect anything less.”
McCormick said the Buckeyes handled the physicality of the game well, especially in faceoffs.
“We want to win one-on-one battles and we want to out-compete the other team, and that’s what we focused on in practice, so we executed that well tonight,” he said.
The first game of the series was held Friday, and the Buckeyes came out strong on their way to a 4-1 victory.
The game remained scoreless until the second period, when Fritz put OSU on the board with a late-period goal, and Dzingel followed suit in the third with a goal of his own at 12:16. Senior forward Ryan Rashid of the Purple Eagles closed the gap with a goal at 18:17, but McCormick responded with a goal just 10 seconds later and then another at 19:27 with an empty Niagara net.
After the game Friday, Fritz said his legs “were a little bit heavy at the start,” but once he got going, he was fine.
Rohlik said the defensive unit, which only allowed two goals in the series, was as good as it could’ve been.
”When you say ‘defense,’ I think that’s all five guys on the ice, and certainly I think it starts on that end,” he said. “We talk about offense, but everything starts from the D-zone. Our guys stepped up in that area — we blocked some shots from our forwards to our (defensemen).”
The Buckeyes are slated to finish their homestand with a two-game series against Canisius Friday and Saturday. The puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. in both games.