The No. 15 Ohio State men’s hockey team (6-3-3, 1-3-0-0 in Big Ten) will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, after an off week to face off against No. 17 Michigan (6-4-2, 2-2-2-1 in Big Ten) in a battle between one of the nation’s best offenses and the Buckeyes’ shutdown defense.
The Wolverines are tied for third in the nation in scoring offense at 3.83 goals per game, which includes putting in 11 goals in a series against then-No. 4 Minnesota. That series ended in an 5-4 overtime win and a 6-6 shootout loss for Michigan. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing only 2.29 goals per game.
The Buckeyes match the impressive offensive numbers with a scoring defense that is also tied for third in the country, allowing only two goals per game. Head coach Steve Rohlik said the success is more about his own team performing well than preparing specifically for the opponent.
“It’s about our detail, it’s five-man defense five-man offense and that’s what we’ve been stressing all year,” Rohlik said. “It’s about how we play and what we do, we know how good they are, we know what they can do, and again it’s about us going out there and executing our game plan.”
Senior forward Tony Calderone is Michigan’s most powerful scorer this season, netting 10 goals on just 44 shots, good for fifth in the NCAA. Michigan’s key playmaker all year has been sophomore forward Cooper Marody, who is fourth in the nation with 20 points, and tied for second with 16 assists.
“They can beat you with a lot of different guys and certainly guys like [Calderone] have been putting points up on the board, again I think it’s just about our team defense, it’s not about one guy, it’s about our five guys on the ice,” Rohlik said.
Michigan changed head coaches for the first time in 33 years this offseason with the retirement of former NHL player Red Berenson. Berenson led the Wolverines to 11 NCAA Final Fours and two national championships. He was replaced by Mel Pearson, who was Berenson’s assistant coach from 1987-2011.
“As a young coach being able to stand there and look down at a legendary Hall-of-Famer in Red, it’s almost like every game you walk away going ‘that’s unbelievable,’” Rohlik said. “Certainly Red’s missed … but Mel’s doing a heck of a job up there.”
The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry transcends every sport, and hockey is no exception. Most games within this matchup are filled with big hits and trash talking. In a game last season, the bad blood escalated into a massive fight after an 8-6 Michigan victory last season.
Michigan has won 11 of the 18 matchups against Ohio State in the past five seasons, but the Buckeyes have won five of the past eight meetings against their rivals.
“We don’t like those guys and we know that they don’t like us,” junior forward Dakota Joshua said. “I think it’s really cut throat and we really take those games to another level.”
Joshua is one of five Ohio State players born in Michigan, and he said there is an added intensity to perform in his home state.
“Switching over sides, coming down to Ohio State was a big deal, and going back to Michigan there’s always some extra pride, extra chip on your shoulder that you want to stick it to them and prove them wrong.”
This weekend series is the first of two the teams will share this season. With both teams teetering on the edge of the USCHO rankings week after week, these games may mean more than ever when when determining which teams make the NCAA tournament at the end of the year.
Puck drop is set at 6:30 p.m. Friday and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Friday game will be shown live on Big Ten Network.