A week after going on the road to face the No. 1 team in the nation, the Ohio State men’s hockey team is traveling again, this time to Madison, Wis., to face No. 9-ranked Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes (11-8-1, 1-4-1) fell in both games against top-ranked Minnesota last weekend, while the Badgers (13-6-1, 4-2-0-0), are coming off two wins against No. 14 Michigan Jan. 10 and 11.
Freshman goalie Matt Tomkins, who made 26 saves in Friday night’s loss, said the way the Buckeyes competed against a team like Minnesota demonstrates just how small the gap between success and failure is in the Big Ten.
“It shows how close the league is as a whole, and how close we are to being one of the top teams in the nation,” Tomkins said. “We just need to focus on the little things to put us that much higher up in the standings.”
Like his teammate Tomkins, sophomore forward Anthony Greco said the key thing the Buckeyes must do in order to overcome the Badgers this weekend is look within themselves.
“Our focus is really on us, and what we need to do better,” Greco said. “We’ve got to play as best we can and hopefully get two wins out of it.”
The Badgers — much like the Gophers — are an elite team. They enter this weekend having lost only once at home in 14 games and averaging 3.55 goals per game, tied with the Buckeyes for second in the Big Ten.
The two games against the Badgers this weekend will hold some added significance for OSU head coach and Wisconsin alumnus Steve Rohlik as he returns to the school where he won a national championship as a player. But despite Madison being “a special place” for him, Rohlik said his only focus is preparing his team to play a Badgers squad that has multiple strengths.
“They’re as well coached as any team in college hockey. They stick to their systems and they’re very disciplined,” Rohlik said. “You’ve got to earn every inch on the ice against these guys.”
After the disappointment of last weekend, Tomkins said getting positive results in Wisconsin would be “huge” for the Buckeyes, but he knows they’ll have to pass a demanding test to achieve that goal.
“We’re expecting a hard-nosed, skilled, and fast team,” Tomkins said. “They’re ranked pretty highly for a reason, so we’ve got to come ready to play.”
Puck drop for this weekend is set for 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.