Ohio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik took a breath and tucked his hands behind his back. Visibly perturbed, he proceeded to answer whether the Buckeyes (2-5-1) contend to be the best college hockey team in the state.
“To be honest with you, my whole emphasis is trying to get my team better,” Rohlik said. “Obviously Friday night’s a big in-state rivalry against a team that’s playing very good hockey. There should be some personal feeling going into it.”
Rohlik’s half-masked frustration was justified. OSU is having its worst start to a season since 2009 and has gone 4-11-4 against in-state opponents since the 2011-12 season.
The unpleasant situation will yield an opportunity this weekend as OSU has a chance to improve its record and statewide reputation during its home-and-home series against Bowling Green State University.
“You definitely want to be the team that everybody talks about,” Buckeye senior forward Tanner Fritz said. “You want to be known as the good hockey team in Ohio.”
No. 7 Miami University (7-3-0, 3-1-0) and Bowling Green (7-2-1, 5-1-0) have dueled for that label lately. The teams split their series earlier this season and Miami is represented in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15 while the Falcons received six votes.
Bowling Green enters Friday’s home game on a three-game winning streak following a road series sweep against the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Much of the Falcons’ success is attributable to the play of sophomore forward Kevin Dufour, who is tied for first in the nation with nine goals through 10 games. Dufour leads Bowling Green with 10 points.
The Buckeyes’ plan is to match the Falcons’ offense with an up-tempo style that puts less emphasis on Dufour and more on the team, Rohlik said.
“We have to outwork them,” junior defenseman Sam Jardine said. “If you don’t bring your best effort, they’ll win the puck battles all over the ice.”
Winning puck battles on special teams has been a focus for OSU. The Buckeyes spent more than 40 minutes of Wednesday’s hour-long practice working on their power play, which has gone six-for-33 this season.
The Falcons have the 12th-best penalty kill in the country, killing 89.2 percent of its penalties.
“We have to know where each other are before getting the puck and then it’s back to basics,” Jardine said. “Get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net, get some rebounds and wish for a bounce.”
OSU’s first task of the weekend will be getting a quick start to eliminate the fans as a factor, Fritz said.
The Falcons have experienced a slight increase in attendance this season, bringing an average of 2,174 fans to their nearly 50-year-old ice rink through their first three home games of the season. The BGSU Ice Arena has a capacity of 5,000.
“You go into their arena and see a lot of history in there,” Jardine said. “It’s an easy place to get up and play.”
It might get easier for Jardine this weekend as he was paired with junior defenseman Craig Dalrymple, who has not played since January because of an upper body injury, during Wednesday’s practice.
“We’ve missed him a lot,” Jardine said. “He’s a big piece to our D-core and it’s been tough without him to be honest.”
Buckeye junior defensemen Blake Doerring and freshman forward Nick Jones were also practicing without non-contact jerseys.
Rohlik did not confirm whether Dalrymple, Doerring or Jones would play this weekend.
“Not to say everybody’s 100 percent,” Rohlik said. “It’s nice to have everybody out there. It’s one day at a time … so far so good.”
-Rohlik has gone 8-11-4 against in-state opponents since joining OSU’s staff in 2010
-OSU’s series vs. Bowling Green marks its final non-conference matchup before opening conference play vs. Michigan State on Nov. 20 and 21.