After concluding the regular season with a road sweep over No. 18 Wisconsin, the No. 13-ranked Ohio State men’s hockey team (20-10-6, 11-8-1 Big Ten) heads to legendary Joe Louis Arena on Thursday to compete for a Big Ten tournament championship and an automatic ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
OSU will take on the Michigan State Spartans (7-23-4, 3-14-3 Big Ten) at 4:30 p.m. in the first round of the tournament on Thursday. Although the Buckeyes went 3-1 against MSU in the regular season, history has shown it’s a battle to the end between the two teams.
“It’s just two good hockey teams,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “It just seems it comes down to the wire. We’ve got a lot of respect obviously for Tom and his program and we’ve got to go up there and play our best hockey.”
Michigan State comes into this game off of a loss and a tie at No. 5 Minnesota last weekend. The Spartans are 7-23-4 overall and 3-14-3 in conference this season. In spite of having just three conference wins, one was over the Buckeyes at Value City Arena in which the Spartans scored three goals in just eight minutes.
“They’re a relentless team,” senior captain Nick Schilkey said. “They throw pucks at the net and they get to the net hard.”
The Buckeyes are currently sitting at No. 14 in the PairWise rankings and likely need just one win this weekend to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the conference tournament, however, would cement OSU’s tournament dreams with an automatic NCAA bid.
“We’ve definitely talked about it and our goals are still in tact,” Schilkey said. “We win a couple games and everything is still right there for us. It’s just a matter of us going out and playing our game. We can’t think about Friday, Saturday. We have to focus on Thursday. There’s no tournament, there’s nothing else passed this Thursday if we don’t win.”
Sophomore forward Mason Jobst was the lone Buckeye to earn All-Big Ten first team honors and was also named the Big Ten scoring co-Champion after his 33 points in conference play.
“(Jobst is) a very talented hockey player but I say this all the time, it’s because of his his hard work that you continue to believe that he’s going to get better,” Rohlik said. “Monday through Thursday he continues to work hard. He does all of the little things right. He’s small in stature but big every night he plays.”
In addition to leading OSU in points, Jobst is the first Buckeye since 2003 to reach the 50-point mark in one season, but according to him it could not have been accomplished without his teammates and coaches.
“Obviously, you always believe in yourself,” Jobst said. “I’ve believed that I can be successful at this level. I’ve been surrounded by great players this entire year, great team, great coaching staff that has definitely led to my success.”
Along with Jobst, three senior received Big Ten accolades. Seniors Schilkey, defenseman Josh Healey and goalie Christian Frey were each named to the All-Big Ten second team and sophomore Dakota Joshua received honorable mention.
“I think it says a lot about the program,” Rohlik said. “I think it says a lot about my staff going out there and getting the right hockey players, the right student athletes here at Ohio State. It’s nice to see them getting recognized but I think every one of those guys would give all of those awards back for a team award at the end.”
Michigan State only had one player who was named honorable mention in junior defenseman Carson Gatt, who was the Spartans second top-scoring defenseman with 11 points and a plus-two rating. The Buckeyes own the top powerplay in the country, which should boast well against a Spartans penalty kill that ranks 58th of 60 teams. As a defense, Michigan State allows nearly four goals per game while the OSU offense averages four goals each contest.
OSU will be facing the Spartans in the final season of Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Detroit Red Wings, which is set to be torn down later this year. OSU sees the opportunity to play in “The Joe” in its farewell season as an honor.
“It’s kind of a sad day to understand that it’s going to come down here soon but for us to be able to go there and play in one of the last games up there, I think it’s pretty special,” Rohlik said. “If only those walls could talk and our guys could really understand that history.”
The Scarlet and Gray are comfortable playing in road atmospheres, with an 13-2-3 away record to prove it.
“Our guys are confident going up and playing in different places and playing on the road,” Schilkey said. “We’ve been successful this year on the road and I think it’s going to be no different this weekend.”