Winners of four straight and undefeated through seven games, the Ohio State men’s hockey team had a rare opportunity in the nonconference schedule to play on home ice at the Schottenstein Center. Ranked No. 11 in the nation, OSU looked to continue its hot play against Robert Morris before heading to Pittsburgh for the second half of the home-and-home series on Saturday.
However, three second-period goals from the Colonials unseated OSU from the unbeaten, 6-2. OSU fell to 5-1-2 on the season.
“Anytime you lose a hockey game it hurts,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “Against good hockey teams, if you don’t play your best you’re going to get beat and I think that’s what happened tonight. The better team won, for sure.”
Rohlik said on Wednesday that the team had worked extensively in practice on cleaning up the defensive zone. Whatever holes and inconsistencies the Colonials saw on film, they were exploited on Friday; mostly by sophomore left wing Alex Tonge.
Tonge put the Colonials on the board in the first period off an assist from defenseman Eric Israel. The forward sat in front of the net and Israel centered a pass from the end boards that OSU couldn’t steer away.
Then in the second period, Tonge scored again on an even-strength goal, putting Robert Morris up, 3-1. The front line of Robert Morris finished the game with three of the team’s six goals.
“They capitalized on their chances and that was the difference tonight,” senior captain forward Nick Schilkey said. “We’re going to have a short memory and be back ready tomorrow.”
Coming into the matchup, Tomkins was a catalyst for OSU’s success between the pipes. In four of his five starts before Friday, he had allowed two or fewer goals. When senior goaltender Christian Frey went down with an injury against Air Force in the team’s second game of the year, Tomkins came in relief and stopped 10 shots, including seven in overtime. Rohlik said that despite pulling him after the fifth goal, tonight can be looked at as an outlier for Tomkins.
“We have a few other guys out in front of him that weren’t their best either, but I think all the credit goes to (Robert Morris),” Rohlik said. “We just didn’t get it done tonight.”
Special teams play was a large factor in the lopsided decision on Friday night. Both OSU and Robert Morris were tied fifth nationally in powerplay efficiency, converting on one of every four powerplay opportunities. The Buckeyes were 0-for-5, while the Colonials were 2-for-2 in the game.
Robert Morris ranked second to last in the NCAA in penalty kill coming into the matchup.
After the Robert Morris’ second powerplay goal came at 13:39 in the second period, just 20 seconds into the penalty kill, Rohlik called a timeout.
OSU didn’t score the rest of the period, despite having a man-advantage to end the second and begin the third period. Robert Morris’ leading scorer Brady Ferguson added a goal just two minutes into the third period giving the Colonials a substantial four-goal lead.
“We forced a couple plays from the goal line or something … if something’s not there you can’t force it,” Schilkey said. “We got some good chances too. They’re not going to go in every night but you hope to come back tomorrow and pop a couple of those in.”
A bright spot for OSU was junior forward Matthew Weis, who was coming off the best two-game stretch of his career last weekend against Niagara where he scored two goals and contributed on four others. On Friday night, he backed up his Big Ten first-star of the week honor by scoring the first goal of the night, at 3:14 in the first period.
The team repeatedly said in the offseason that this was the closest group of players the program has had in the last four years. The response from Friday’s letdown will truly test the character of the team. Schilkey said that the message for Saturday’s game against Robert Morris is to stick together as a unit.
“We got to have a quick turnaround. We play a team that should be very confident against us,” Rohlik said. “You find out your true character when you have adversity. And obviously for us, things aren’t going to go well all the time and you’re going to have bumps in the road. Right now, we’ll find out about our character and I believe in the guys in our locker room. I believe in our leadership. One loss isn’t the season but we got to learn from it and get better.”