The No. 11 Ohio State men’s hockey team (8-3-3, 3-3-0-0 Big Ten) will play a home game for the first time in nearly a month this weekend, with a two-game series against conference foe Penn State (8-7-1, 3-4-1-0 in Big Ten).
The Nittany Lions come into this home series winning three of their past four games, including decisive 7-0 and 7-2 victories against Arizona State and Michigan State, respectively. Penn State is the latest high-powered offense Ohio State faces, ranking third in the nation with 3.81 goals per game.
Penn State’s potent offense tallies an NCAA-leading 41.7 shots per game.
“They’re going to get their shots,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We just have to continue to play solid defense, and the shot column is not the one that really means the most to me, it’s obviously the goals. And for us we want to defend as best we can and, when we get our opportunities, try to get some rushes going the other way.”
Junior forward Andrew Sturtz leads Penn State with eight goals and 19 points, but a key player in the matchup will be sophomore forward Denis Smirnov. Smirnov returns to the Nittany Lions after missing the previous eight games with an undisclosed illness.
The forward from Moscow, Russia, dominated during his freshman campaign, leading the nation’s freshmen with 47 points on 19 goals and 28 assists, all of which are Penn State freshman records. Smirnov has registered 11 points this season with five goals and six assists in eight games, and Rohlik knows how much of a threat he can be on the ice.
“He’s one of the best players in the country. He’s proven that last year, and we understand what he brings,” Rohlik said. “He’s a catalyst to their offense, but again, for us it’s not about one guy, we have to defend their five guys on the ice, and that’s the way we go about it each week.”
In the past four seasons, Ohio State has won 11 of its 16 matchups against Penn State, including two wins on the road — one in a shootout — last season while the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 in the country.
“We got their number, I can tell you that,” senior forward Christian Lampasso said.
Lampasso scored two of his four goals last weekend in Game 2 of the weekend sweep against then-No. 17 Michigan. He said the series was one of the highlight moments of his Ohio State career.
“It was really cool getting those two goals, in Michigan, sealing the game, and it meant a lot for the school, for the team, a big win for the Buckeyes altogether,” Lampasso said.
Penn State remains two points ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten, but Ohio State has two games in hand and could move up to second in the conference behind Notre Dame with a pair of wins over the weekend.
The Buckeyes will need to rely on their team defense, which has allowed the second-least goals in the NCAA, as well as their nation-leading penalty kill to slow down the Nittany Lions’ high-flying offense.
“We’ve always tried to be defensive first, even last year, even though it maybe didn’t seem like that at times, but this year we’ve definitely bought all-in to the system, and, as you’ve seen it’s been working out pretty well for us,” junior forward Mason Jobst said.
Puck drop for the Penn State series is set for 7:00 p.m. Friday and 4:00 p.m. Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.