Just three games into the season, the Ohio State men’s hockey team has already gotten off to a much better start than it did the last year. The Buckeyes check in at 1-0-2 and ranked 19th in the uscho.com poll through the first two weeks of play.
Through the first month of the season, the team set its goals on a fast start. In the 2015-16 campaign, OSU began the year 0-8 including two losses each to Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio). Last Saturday, OSU tied Miami 1-1 and the Buckeyes look to capitalize on another opportunity to own the title of the best college hockey team in the state of Ohio, with one game at Bowling Green on Friday and the team’s first home game of the year on Saturday.
The Bowling Green Falcons (0-3-1) were picked in the preseason to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference, but the outcomes thus far have contradicted preconceived notions. The Falcons are coming off of a tie and a blowout loss to Western Michigan last week. Despite the sluggish start for Bowling Green, OSU senior goalie Matt Tomkins said encounters with the Falcons in the past are fresh on the minds of the Scarlet and Gray.
“Up in BG, it’s a tough place to play, to get wins … We don’t expect them to change the way they are,” he said. “They’re a hard-working team and do whatever it takes to get wins.”
Tomkins has arguably been the team’s MVP since senior goalie Christian Frey went down with an undisclosed injury in the third period against Air Force on Oct. 8. Tomkins pitched a shutout in net through two periods of action after relieving Frey, including seven saves in the overtime period. In his first start of the season, Tomkins made 22 saves and bailed out the Buckeye defense. He ranks second in the NCAA with a .970 save percentage.
OSU coach Steve Rohlik has rotated Frey and Tomkins in net for the better part of the last three seasons, but it seems like he’s sticking to one guy for now. He said on Wednesday that Frey is day-to-day and hasn’t gotten any reps in practice this week. Regardless if Frey was good to go, Rohlik said he and Tomkins has proved his own since Frey went down with injury.
For Tomkins and the rest of the Buckeyes, this is the first time this season where they play a game one night, then travel for a game the next night. To stay fresh in those games, the Buckeyes hope to utilize their skate in BGSU Ice Arena on Thursday night to their advantage.
“There are certainly some challenges for both teams. Getting back late on Friday affects your pregame stuff on Saturday,” Rohlik said. “We just try to make adjustments as we go.”
Several members of the team said that beating an in-state opponent is something the program takes seriously. For freshman defenseman Gordi Myer, playing Bowling Green is a little more personal.
Myer is from Sylvania, Ohio, which rests about 40 minutes to the north of Bowling Green. As a kid, he said, if there was nothing to do on Saturday nights, he and his family went to Bowling Green games.
Myer played in the United States Hockey League the last two years, mostly in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He said that many of his friends from home and most of his family will be attending the game on Friday night in Northwest Ohio.
“Especially family, they haven’t gotten to see me play a lot in the last couple of years,” he said.
The Falcons were Myer’s second option during his recruitment, but he said given his family’s support of OSU, the city of Columbus and the facilities the Buckeyes have it wasn’t a difficult choice for him. Now at OSU, he understands the gravity of downing in-state opponents.
“It means more for me too since I’m from Ohio,” he said. “Back home it’s all about Ohio State, so just being able to represent your school in-state is a big deal.”
Bowling Green is one of the most penalized teams in the NCAA, averaging 8.8 penalties per game. OSU’s power-play unit has scored just once on 13 chances through three games, but the Falcons have surrendered power-play goals 33 percent of the time. Senior forward David Gust believes this could be the game for the power play’s coming out party.
“Power plays can be crucial. If we could’ve scored just one out of those six (power plays), we could’ve won the game (against Miami),” Gust said. “We know special teams can win games and we got to bare down.”