OSU freshman forward John Wiitala (10) during a game against Wisconsin on Feb. 26 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Shanti Lerner | For The Lantern

OSU freshman forward John Wiitala (10) during a game against Wisconsin on Feb. 26 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Shanti Lerner | For The Lantern

The Ohio State men’s hockey team (10-17-3, 5-8-3) is getting ready to face off against bitter rival Michigan (20-5-5, 10-3-3) for the last time in the regular season in a home-and-home series, the latter part a Sunday showdown at Nationwide Arena.

The Buckeyes are coming off an offensive showcase against Wisconsin that featured 13 players collecting points in Saturday’s victory.

The Buckeyes are now unbeaten in three straight games for the first time in two months. The previous streak was two victories at the Florida College Hockey Classic in late December, followed by a victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 8.

Michigan is coming off a 3-2 overtime loss against Minnesota. The previous Wolverine loss was another 3-2 overtime defeat, that time against Michigan State. Before Friday’s loss, the Maize and Blue had scored at least four goals in each of their last five games.

OSU coach Steve Rohlik stressed that modest play will be key for the Buckeyes in their pursuit of stopping the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense.

“Sometimes it’s the simplest hockey that causes the major problems. A lot of times maybe guys try to do too much instead of the easy pass or make the outlet pass and let things happen,” Rohlik said. “It seems at times we try to do too much and end up beating ourselves. We’ve got to make teams try to beat us instead of beating ourselves.”

Rohlik also enforced that it is not always the player with the puck on his stick that is the dangerous man.

“It’s a lot to do with what you’re doing without the puck. That’s the thing I’ve been stressing a lot is your awareness without the puck,” he said. “You can get caught up sometimes with some pretty good players and what they’re doing with the puck and you forget about the guy that’s 2 feet away from you. You’ve got to trust your teammates.”

The last time these two rivals met, each collected points, but not without some of the usual extracurricular altercations.

The previous game at the Schottenstein Center ended in a 5-5 tie, but the Buckeyes came out on top 1-0 in a shootout. The next game in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ended in an 8-6 Wolverine victory.

OSU freshman forward Brendon Kearney and Michigan sophomore forward Dexter Dancs each received disqualifications after the final whistle for fighting.

B1G stars face off

Two standout players for both sides enter the weekend series with Big Ten honors on their backs.

OSU junior forward Nick Schilkey was named Big Ten First Star of the Week on Tuesday. Against Wisconsin, Schilkey registered a Big Ten-best five points from two goals and three assists. It is the second week in a row the Marysville, Michigan, native received weekly accolades; Schilkey was the Big Ten’s second star last week.

Schilkey now has a career-high 35 points this season, which leads the Buckeyes. His 17 goals and 18 assists are both career bests, and he is currently on a four-game point streak with 10 points during that period.  

On the other side of the ice, Michigan freshman forward Kyle Connor collected the Big Ten’s Second Star of the Week. Connor extended his point streak to 19 games after collecting two goals and an assist during the Minnesota series. Connor leads the NCAA in scoring with 54 points from 26 goals and 28 assists.

Pro day

The Buckeyes are scheduled to play their final home game of the season at Nationwide Arena. The downtown facility is home to the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and Rohlik said he feels that a professional venue might be of some motivation for his group.

“Well that’s part of it for sure, and I think for our guys to get the opportunity to go and play in a venue like that right here at home, right down the road,” Rohlik said.

Rohlik said playing in an arena that houses an NHL rink is a vital experience before the Big Ten tournament at the home of the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“The Big Ten tournament is at the Xcel (Energy) Center. It’s an NHL facility. Exactly, I mean pretty close to what we’re playing in,” Rohlik said. “I think it gives us guys an opportunity to go down there and get a feel on an NHL rink, and be ready in a couple of weeks.”

The first match at Yost Ice Arena is scheduled to start at 7:35 p.m. on Friday. The next game at Nationwide Arena is slated to begin at 3 p.m. two days later.