Fitting with the nature of their position, defensemen on the Ohio State men’s hockey team don’t have much margin for error. The Buckeyes have six spots in the lineup for defensemen and eight healthy blue liners vying to claim them.
This weekend, the Buckeyes (2-3-1) will play the winners of their weekly position battle during their home series against the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
But while the depth on the blue line has been a blessing for the OSU coaching staff, it’s posed a challenge for those working to crack the lineup.
OSU senior defenseman Al McLean was the latest to realize that when he was made a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s game against Canisius College.
McLean, who would have played his 100th collegiate game on Saturday, was replaced by freshman defenseman Victor Björkung, who, at the time, had played only two collegiate games.
The swap made clear that while the Buckeyes return seven defensemen, nobody’s spot in the lineup is guaranteed.
“At this level, everybody’s competitive,” McLean said. “Nobody takes a backseat knowing they’re going to play each weekend no matter what happens in practice.”
The decision to scratch McLean was performance-based, but also an indication of the team’s positional depth, OSU associate coach Brett Larson said.
“There’s a lot of competition back there,” Larson said. “You’re always trying to balance playing your (veterans) with developing your young guys.”
On-ice infractions have complicated OSU’s search for a balance through the first three series of the season.
The team issued one-game sanctions to senior defenseman Justin DaSilva and junior defenseman Sam Jardine after their game misconducts during the Buckeyes’ loss to Miami University on Oct. 17.
Sophomore defenseman Josh Healey, however, was not benched following his ejection from OSU’s loss to Providence on Oct. 11.
“Obviously every hit is reviewable because sometimes you agree with the (referee) and sometimes you don’t,” Larson said.
Through the early part of the season, sophomore forward Nick Schilkey said he’s noticed a slight increase in the stringency of officiating.
“It’s kind of weird,” Schilkey said of the increase in match penalties. “Beforehand we thought it was just us … then you watch other games and it’s happening there, too.”
An NCAA official visited OSU during the preseason to clarify the legality of hits, but it’s a concept that’s often situational, Schilkey said.
McLean said he believes the frequency of misconducts will diminish over time.
“Usually you’ll see more calls like that at the beginning of the year,” McLean said. “Everybody on our team’s a smart hockey player, they’ll all adjust as they have to.”
Making that adjustment may be a tough task against the University of Nebraska-Omaha (4-1-1, 2-0-0). The Mavericks, under the direction of coach Dean Blais, operate on a foundation of physicality and competitiveness, Larson said.
“They’re not an extremely detailed team as far as their systems, but they play with a lot of heart and a lot of energy,” Larson said. “We’re going to have to be the same way.”
The University of Nebraska-Omaha is coming off a win and tie against Cornell University last weekend.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.
-Junior defensemen Craig Dalrymple and Blake Doerring participated in Wednesday’s practice and are day-to-day with upper-body injuries, Larson said.
-OSU coach Steve Rohlik was on recruiting assignment during Wednesday’s practice and media availability.
-Rohlik spent three years as a coach with the Mavericks.