Michigan bullied the Ohio State men’s hockey team in Yost Ice Arena, putting the Buckeyes (5-9-1, 1-2-0-0) in a pinch ahead of their nearly month-long break.
OSU’s, 8-3, loss to the Wolverines (8-6-1, 2-1-0) last Friday was the team’s latest setback in its search for an identity. The Buckeyes have gone 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, taking a four-goal and five-goal loss in that stretch.
Team confidence, according to OSU sophomore forward Nick Schilkey, is scrambled.
“(We’re) all over the place,” Schilkey said. “We can be great, and there are times where we just roll over it seems.”
The Buckeyes’ losses have not been from repeating the same problems, Buckeye coach Steve Rohlik said Friday.
The trouble was penalties on Friday, as OSU was stung by 19 penalty minutes against Michigan, nearly seven minutes more than the team averages per game. During the Buckeyes’ 5-1 loss to Western Michigan last weekend, the trouble was effort, Rohlik said.
These reasons gave relief to what could be considered OSU’s most discussed difficulty of the early season: playing from behind. The Buckeyes have allowed the game’s first goal in nine of their 15 games.
That latest trend may be on the decline, as OSU scored first on Friday for the third-consecutive game, but the early advantage only magnified the defeat.
After taking a 1-0 lead on Friday, the Buckeyes took multiple penalties to allow four power-play goals in the second period, including two during a five-minute man advantage after OSU senior forward Nick Oddo was ejected for head butting.
“Anytime you play a period and they get on a roll like that, you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “Taking a dumb penalty like that is not going to help you and special teams certainly did the damage.”
The Buckeyes’ play became more disconnected as their deficit grew. After OSU senior forward Matt Johnson opened the scoring, the Wolverines tied the game, took a 2-1 lead with 12 seconds left in the first period, then scored six more goals.
Buckeye goals from Schilkey and junior forward Anthony Greco registered only in the box score. Momentum was completely lost after OSU’s penalty kill collapsed and the team trailed 7-2 after two periods.
“We just didn’t get the job done and that’s on us,” Rohlik said. “As a coach you have to put these kids in a position to succeed and we just didn’t do it.”
Defensively, OSU’s goaltending inconsistencies persisted. Sophomore goalies Matt Tomkins, Christian Frey and Logan Davis each saw action.
“We have to become consistent and that’s been one of our major issues,” Rohlik said. “Good teams find ways to be consistent and I’m talking from the goaltending on out.”
The loss followed OSU’s 6-2 loss to Western Michigan and 5-1 win against Notre Dame last weekend. The Buckeyes’ played worse in their four-goal loss to the Broncos than they did on Friday night, Schilkey said.
After the game, a tight-lipped team walked with tucked heads as they exited Yost Ice Arena.
Body language was telling. Empty silences filled responses to postgame questions. The team that had won two of its last three games had been humiliated.
“It might be a good thing to let this sink in,” Schilkey said. “When you go out and get embarrassed like that it’s going to sting and we have a little time to think about that.”
The break will also be used for learning as Rohlik indicated the Buckeyes’ resiliency is a good trait, but the team needs to understand how to string together wins like its strung together losses.
“We have to keep that in the back of our minds and start fresh,” senior captain Tanner Fritz said. “We’ve got two weeks to practice and it’s all about getting better now and working even harder. Obviously we’re not doing (the) right things right now.”
As Shilkey emerged from the locker room on Friday, he set down his equipment bag and proceeded to respond to the question his team needs to answer: What now?
“We’ve got a month here to figure out what team we’re going to be,” Schilkey said.
In less than a month, the Buckeyes will know.
-The Buckeyes went 0-for-6 on the power play and 1-for-5 on the penalty kill
-The last time the Buckeyes allowed eight goals was on Nov. 20, 2009 against Ferris State
-OSU will next on Jan. 2 against Mercyhurst University in downtown Erie, Pa.