The Ohio State men’s hockey team arrived at the Big Ten Tournament confident and motivated.
The Buckeyes (14-19-3, 8-11-1) turned that into a 3-1 win against Penn State in the Big Ten quarterfinals, but couldn’t make it pass the semis. OSU’s confidence and motivation wasn’t quite enough, as the Buckeyes lost to No. 13 Minnesota, 3-0, to end their season Friday evening.
Even though the Buckeyes didn’t make the championship game, coach Steve Rohlik had a positive outlook on the losing season. While he said he was proud of the team as a whole, Rohlik stressed the importance of the Buckeyes’ upperclassmen.
“I’m even prouder of our eight seniors,” he said. “What they’ve done for our program, they’ve sent this program in the right direction. So, obviously I thank them.”
Senior assistant captain forward Matt Johnson said even though the end result was disappointing, he was proud of his teammates’ desire to end the season confident and unified.
“We really found our identity and started to roll with it,” Johnson said. “Going off of last year, we were very confident, just like this year, we beat every team in the conference. There was nobody we didn’t think we could beat.”
Moving forward, the Buckeyes will be without eight seniors, who have seen the program transition from the hiring of a new head coach and a change of conference to the Big Ten from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
“It’s really an incredible group,” Rohlik said. “They’re the ones that have been a big part of where this culture is and where it’s going. Their leadership pulled us along over the last couple months. They’re a big part of why we had a chance.”
For Johnson and senior captain forward Tanner Fritz, the final game was emotional, but the two said they are excited for the program’s future.
“I see the program going, obviously, in the right direction,” Johnson said. “We do everything right here. We do it the right way. We have the great staff. To me, you just can’t get a better program.”
“We’re always pushing to get better, and I know they’re going to do that in the following years,” Fritz added. “The only way to go is up from here.”
Next year, the Buckeyes will look toward a new group of upperclassmen to lead them in the right direction.
OSU has three key players returning in captain Sam Jardine, leading goalscorer Anthony Greco and 6-foot-5-inch defenseman Craig Dalrymple.
Beyond that trio, forward Nick Schilkey, defenseman Josh Healey and goaltenders Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins are all set to be back for another season as well.
But regardless of the players, Rohlik said the team’s progression starts with the coach.
“I mean, first and foremost, I’m going to have to take some time to reflect on myself because it starts with me,” Rohlik said. “I’ve got to be better.”
With the return of a solid foundation, Rohlik said he is eager for the Buckeyes to come out with swagger, determination and success in the Big Ten next year.
“The one thing that I want is to let people know we’re going to show up every night,” Rohlik said. “We’re going to come at you and play hard and our guys are going to leave it on the line. That’s our identity and that’s what we try to leave here today.”