Coming off a pair of 1-1 draws against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the home opener last weekend, Ohio State (1-1-2, 1-1-0-0 in Big Ten) now hits the road for another nonconference two-game series, this time with University of Massachusetts (3-1-0, 0-0-0 in Hockey East).
The Minutemen are riding a three-game winning streak, with victories against Union and American International Friday and Saturday, respectively, and a win in the second matchup against Arizona State the weekend prior.
“They got a good team and their coach has done a great job since stepping in there. Their defenseman, [freshman Cale] Makar, is certainly a great playmaker, but they have a lot of players there that can beat you,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We have to go out there and play our best hockey game if we think we’re going to have a chance to win on Friday.”
Makar is the player to watch for on UMass, as his 135 points in 111 games in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and record-setting performance in the World Juniors for Team Canada lifted Makar to the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, selected by the Colorado Avalanche. Makar is the highest draft pick in UMass history.
Makar has recorded three assists through four games, but has yet to find the back of the net. Junior defenseman Sasha Larocque recognizes the talent Makar brings, but said the Buckeyes are going in business as usual.
“We know they’re a good team,” Larocque said. “We know that we have to treat them the same as we treat anybody else and come in, play our game and do everything we can to get the job done.”
The Buckeyes enter this series looking to ignite a power play that remains without a goal for the season, while continuing to support the hot goaltender, junior Sean Romeo.
Romeo stopped 45-of-47 shots against RPI last weekend and looked much more confident between the pipes than in season-opening matchups against Wisconsin, and the exhibition against Ryerson.
“I think you build your own confidence through how you prepare and how you practice,” Romeo said. “So them giving me the opportunity to play is obviously huge, but the confidence comes from practice and coming to the rink every day and putting the work in.”
The season is still young for Ohio State —the Buckeyes are just four games in. Rohlik said the team is looking for an identity that will help it through the rest of the year.
“I think we’re still trying to find that a little bit,” Rohlik said. “I think we want to be a team that works hard, we want to be a team that’s competing every night and we want to be a team that can go with all four lines, and I still think we’re searching for that, and again, I think the special teams is going to be the key.”
Puck drop for the games against UMass is set for 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated the conference UMass is in. It is Hockey East, not the CAA.