For the first time this season, and the only time before conference play, the Ohio State men’s hockey team will host consecutive weekend games when the Connecticut Huskies come to Columbus.
The No. 14 Buckeyes were riding high as one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the country, but were beaten last week by Robert Morris at home for their first loss of the season. OSU finished the weekend with a record of 0-1-1 after a 4-4 tie at Robert Morris last Saturday. Coach Steve Rohlik said that in the games preceding Robert Morris, there were some habits that had crept in which eventually led to a disappointing weekend.
“I don’t think our guys prepared the right way before last weekend,” Rohlik said on Wednesday. “This week was about competing, about focus and about getting ready.”
OSU gave up a combined 10 goals in two games, including one each on the only two power-play chances Robert Morris had last week. The Buckeyes entered last week with one of the top power-play units in the country, however, they went a measly 1-for-11 in two games.
Rohlik had a simple message for the two power-play lines in practice ahead of face off against UConn: “Get better.”
OSU sophomore forward Dakota Joshua said the team emphasis is to put as many pucks on net as the unit possibly can in the two-minute frame. Rohlik pointed out to the team that the power-play unit was playing a lot on the perimeter rather than penetrating in the D-zone. Joshua noticed that the unit has been caught trying to find the perfect play at times, which often results in missed opportunities.
Going against a UConn team that ranks 11th in the country on the penalty kill, Rohlik said he and the coaching staff tweaked a few things on the power play, hoping to garner a few goals on the man advantage this weekend.
“I think first, just good zone entries from both units,” Joshua said. “That’s the start, and then once we’re in the zone … just putting everything toward the net and crashing the net hard. Hopefully that opens up some scramble opportunities or some rebound opportunities to put home.”
Senior defenseman Josh Healey struggled in Friday’s game versus the Colonials with a minus-two plus-minus rating. He then recovered the next day by assisting on two of OSU’s four goals for a plus-two rating. Healey said that, as a team, the Buckeyes have to play more “defense-first hockey.”
Robert Morris was able to play the puck along the walls and get behind the OSU line of defense. The Colonials showcased their speed and exposed OSU in the defensive zone. Healey said the message from the coaching staff has been resounding and clear.
“Coaches were definitely on us because they know we can be better and we know we can be better too,” he said. “We definitely had a few meetings and a few talks, but we’ll be ready to go.”
This weekend marks the first time the Huskies and the Buckeyes have battled on the ice. Members of the Hockey East Association, the Huskies have already knocked off a ranked opponent — then-No. 6 Notre Dame on the road — and are hoping to build onto its tournament resume with a solid showing against the Buckeyes.
After getting out to a quick start, something that had been a priority for the Buckeyes, OSU has to find a way to rebound against a UConn team that has experience playing against top competition.
“It was easy to say that we were feeling a little comfortable that we hadn’t been knocked down yet,” Joshua said. “After last weekend, it hit us … and making sure we’re on top of everything that we need to be on top of throughout the week has really enabled us to believe that we can come out of this weekend with two wins.”
OSU has senior goaltender Christian Frey and redshirt junior defender Matt Joyaux likely to rejoin the team this week after injury. Frey will likely serve backup to senior goaltender Matt Tomkins and Joyaux could rejoin the power-play unit, if both are cleared to play. Both players practiced this week.
The puck drops against the Huskies on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.