After the Ohio State men’s hockey team surprised the nation last year, the Buckeyes are coming out this season to prove their success was no fluke.
Ohio State will get a chance to prove that early, with a season-opening series at No. 12 Wisconsin this weekend. The No. 19 Buckeyes are coming into this year after a season in which they finished 21-12-6, which was enough to earn the team’s seventh all-time NCAA tournament appearance and the first in eight years.
In the tournament, the Buckeyes lost to eventual NCAA-runner-up Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in overtime in the first round.
“We watched [the film] a couple of weeks ago in the locker room, and all those chances we had in overtime, I thought we were right there and hopefully we can get back to that point and make it further,” junior forward Mason Jobst said.
Jobst is the most pivotal player returning to the Buckeyes this season, as he led the Big Ten in points last year with 55, and was named team captain.
The Buckeyes lost their only exhibition game 7-4 to Ryerson. Ohio State roared out to a 4-1 lead midway through the second period, then proceeded to give up six unanswered goals, leading to the defeat.
“[Ryerson] came in here and they were the better team no question,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “It’s going to take hard work, and how we prepare Monday through Thursday is when you win the game, not showing up on Friday.”
Ohio State had less than a week to get back on track after the defeat as it opens its season with a pair of road games at Wisconsin, the team that eliminated the Buckeyes from the 2017 Big Ten tournament. Ohio State opens the season against the Badgers Friday at 8 p.m. and the two teams return to action the next day at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be exciting,” junior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “Obviously they’re a great team and it’s going to be a great test for us to see where we’re at at the start of the year.”
The Buckeyes lost several All-Big Ten players from the previous season, including top goal-scorer Nick Schilkey, forward David Gust, defenseman Josh Healey and starting goalie Christian Frey.
Now, the team will rely on their remaining talent, starting with two NHL draft picks — junior forward Dakota Joshua and sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski — who were fourth and fifth on the team in scoring, respectively.
“I think I need to be more consistent,” Laczynski said. “Night in, night out not taking any games off, really just work hard and try to be a leader out there.”
The Buckeyes managed to remain consistent on the road all last year, with an impressive 13-2-3 record away from home, the best in the NCAA. The problem was their record at the Schottenstein Center, which was a much less glamorous 7-7-2.
When asked about improving the home record, Rohlik said, “Well if you know that answer let me know. I just think it’s a mindset of coming out here and just, in that locker room knowing that we have to step on the ice and win games here at home, and I think that’s something our guys want to do.”
This Ohio State team is going to need players to step up in big ways for them to have the same level of success they achieved last year, especially considering the Big Ten got even stronger with the addition of No. 8 Notre Dame to the conference.
The good news is that this leaves Ohio State with numerous chances scattered throughout the schedule to prove themselves as a legitimate contender to make the NCAA tournament.
Jobst will be a major factor if this team will want to succeed, as his incredible playmaking abilities allow for other players on his line to really strive. Ohio State will also need help from its newcomers, as transfers redshirt sophomore defenseman Wyatt Ege and redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo could help the team massively on the defensive end, where it struggled mightily against Ryerson.
The power-play success will be essential, as the Buckeyes were by far the best team in college last year with a man up, boasting a 31.4 percent success rate. That success had a lot to do with both Schilkey and Gust, who scored 26 of the team’s 49 goals with a man advantage. Still, Jobst had nine of the goals, and set up plenty of others, leaving open the possibility the power play will again be among the NCAA’s best.
The road to the NCAA tournament will be tough, but it’s not completely out of the question. The opening series against Wisconsin will answer more questions as to where exactly this team sits, and just how much of a threat they will be in the Big Ten, but if the team gets stronger defensively, keeps its impressive power play, and gets Jobst some added help from some new faces, the Buckeyes could match last season’s success.