The key to competing in a new conference is about adjusting to a new environment. For the Ohio State men’s hockey team, that means getting used to playing quality Big Ten opponents in what is the conference’s first season.
Sophomore forward Anthony Greco got his first taste of what life in the conference would be like when he entered Yost Ice Arena to face Michigan in OSU’s first-ever Big Ten hockey game in November.
“You walk in with the cameras and media around and you can just tell that the buzz is enhanced a bit,” Greco said. “(The Big Ten) is something that I’m excited to be a part of and that our team is excited to be a part of.”
The attention and excitement that preceded the start of Big Ten play has been replaced by fierce competition between talented teams.
The Buckeyes are six games into their conference schedule, posting a record of 1-4-1 after two losses to No. 1 Minnesota over the weekend. The Golden Gophers are one of three Big Ten teams ranked in the top 15 in the nation, along with Wisconsin and Michigan. OSU coach Steve Rohlik hasn’t been surprised by the toughness of the schedule his team has played thus far.
“It’s exactly how I expected it to go, to be honest,” Rohlik said. “The defining thing (about playing in the conference) is knowing that you have to play your best every night.”
Despite only winning once against a conference opponent, OSU has been close in all of its games. Three of their four defeats have been by a differential of one goal. With little margin for error, Rohlik said the Buckeyes must be as focused as possible.
“It’s going to be tight every game, and it’s going to come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes,” Rohlik said. “You’ve got to take care of the little things because they could end up being the difference in a game.”
One player who has really felt the impact of playing against Big Ten opponents is freshman goalie Matt Tomkins. He made eight starts in non-conference play before getting injured Nov. 9 against Niagara.
“Every Big Ten game has been exciting,” Tomkins said. “I’m just glad to be a part of it and to do everything I can to help the guys get some points.”
He returned in time for the start of the Buckeyes’ first home conference series against Michigan State Jan. 10, making three starts since coming back. Tomkins said he was happy to come back just as the bulk of conference play began.
Now that the Buckeyes have gotten their feet under them and competed at the same level as the teams they’ve faced, Tomkins said it’s time for OSU to start making an upward climb in the standings.
“We’re really close (to winning games in the Big Ten),” Tomkins said. “Everybody really buys in and gets on the same page, so I think we’ll be able to make a run.”
This weekend will be another test for the Buckeyes (11-8-1, 1-4-1) as they hit the road to face No. 9 Wisconsin (13-6-1, 4-2-0). Friday’s game in Madison, Wisc., is set to start at 9 p.m., while Saturday’s matchup is scheduled for 8 p.m.