As in-state rivals Ohio State and No. 16 Bowling Green get set to renew their rivalry for the 179th time this Friday at the Schottenstein Center, there’s a bevy of questions surrounding the young Buckeye team — almost all of which will be solved within the first three weekends.
A vigorous nonconference schedule awaits the Scarlet and Gray, who finished last season 14-19-3 and encountered injury problems throughout. But despite the difficult games on the horizon, OSU is trying to focus on its next opponent.
“All we’re worried about right now is Bowling Green,” senior captain Craig Dalrymple said. “We know we have the Miamis, the Providences, the Omahas and Boston College at Christmas, but we’re not worried about that right now. We’re worried about Friday night, getting that game under our belt. Hopefully that goes well and we’ll look forward to Saturday when it comes.”
Saturday’s matchup will be at the BGSU Ice Arena, where last year an arena-record crowd of 5,353 was on hand when OSU beat the Falcons 3-2 on a goal by now-senior captain Anthony Greco with 34 seconds remaining in the game.
The Buckeyes return three of their top four scorers from last season: Greco (15 goals, 8 assists), junior captain Nick Schilkey (10, 12) and sophomore forward Matthew Weis (8, 14).
The Scarlet and Gray defense, anchored by Dalrymple, much like the team, will discover its own identity very quickly against a hard-forechecking, pesky Falcon offense.
OSU’s goaltending will see no changes from the previous season and a half, as juniors Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins will be jockeying for the starting job week after week.
For Bowling Green, experience is not an issue.
Of the 119 goals the Falcons scored last season, 103 were registered by players who are back for another campaign.
Sophomore forward Brandon Hawkins led the team in scoring last year, tallying 16 goals and 14 assists.
A program that had just five wins during the 2009-10 campaign, Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron has built the storied program back to national prominence and are primed for a re-entry into the NCAA tournament after getting close last season.
“It’s going to be a Friday-Saturday tilt that’s going to be a lot of hitting, tight checking and probably low scoring,” Dalrymple said. “Hopefully, as defensemen, we can break their forecheck down and cause neutral zone turnovers as well.”
With 27 players on the roster, OSU has plenty of depth. For Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik, the first few weekends will tell him what type of team he’s working with.
“We’ll see what we have,” Rohlik said. “We just want to keep getting better. Friday is an opportunity against a very good hockey team here at home.”
It’s a challenge deciding who starts on a team with so many capable players. It does however, create competition, which ultimately could improve the team.
“There’s going to be some good players that aren’t dressed on Friday night,” Rohlik said. “That’s good and bad. The good part is, we do have some depth, the bad part is, we’re going to have some guys that are a little disappointed. That’s going to be the competition that we need to continue to get better.”
Five of OSU’s seven first-half opponents are ranked in the nation’s top 20 according to the United States College Hockey Online poll.
Getting behind in the loss column is not an option this season if the Buckeyes want to stay in contention for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.
“We can’t be playing catchup come January,” Schilkey said. “It’s go time right now. It’ll be good to find out where we are, but at the same time, those are games we have to win.”
Puck drop between the Buckeyes and the Falcons is set for 7 p.m. on Friday in Columbus, while Saturday’s tilt is a scheduled 7:37 p.m. start in Bowling Green, Ohio.