The No. 6 Ohio State men’s hockey team will host senior weekend Friday and Saturday at the Schottenstein Center, but it will not be the last time the seniors take the ice at home. The Buckeyes have already clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, taking on Michigan State in a best-of-three series beginning March 2.
Before it begins its journey through the conference tournament, Ohio State (19-8-5, 12-8-2-1 Big Ten) will take on Wisconsin (14-15-4, 8-11-3-1 Big Ten) for a weekend series at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Senior forward Matthew Weis said he knows while it will be an emotional senior weekend, it helps knowing it won’t be the last time the seniors hear the crunch of the Schott’s ice under their skates.
“I think it’s good to know it’s not our final game, but I think still, for me at least, emotions will be high. My family will be in the building again. So, I think just seeing all the stuff that we do before the game for Senior Night will get me going,” Weis said. “It’s definitely nice with the format change and being able to secure home ice this year, so we’ll be able to come back to the Schott.”
The Buckeyes enter the matchup following a series split against No. 8 Minnesota, losing the first contest in a narrow 2-1 defeat before tying the next game 1-1 and grabbing the extra point in the shootout. The Badgers are coming off a bye week. But in the prior week, they were buried by a combined score of 11-3 in two losses to Minnesota.
“We saw Wisconsin a long time ago, the first series of the year, and the one thing I’ll say is it felt like playoff hockey, even though it was the first weekend of the year,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “I don’t expect anything different.”
Wisconsin has been hovering around a .500 record the entire season and has continued that trend in recent weeks, going 4-5-1 in its past 10 games. The offense has been powered by senior forward Ryan Wagner, who leads the team in points with 29 in 33 games. Sophomore forward Trent Frederic, a Boston Bruins first-round pick, paces the Badgers with 15 goals.
The inconsistencies for the Badgers most of the year have been in net with the tandem of senior goaltender Kyle Hayton and sophomore Jack Berry. Both goaltenders’ records are around .500 with nearly identical stat lines. Berry has a 5-5-1 record with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage while Hayton is 9-10-3 with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.
The Buckeyes also have had some shortcomings lately. Sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski, the team’s leader in assists (25) and points (37), has not recorded a point in his past five games. With Laczynski struggling, the top line of him, Weis and junior forward Freddy Gerard has cooled considerably.
“I think for him, sometimes you try to do too much. I think that all of the sudden you start pressing. They got a great line and they got a good chemistry going there. I think it’s just a matter of time,” Rohlik said. “I think when he is at his best, all three of those guys are going together.”
Special teams have been a strong part of Ohio State’s success, with both sides continuing to play effective roles this season. The power play has rebounded from the 0-for-21 start to the year, appearing in the top 15 in the country at 22.5 percent. The penalty kill remains No. 1 in the country at 90.7 percent.
Redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo has been the key to Ohio State’s nation-leading penalty kill. He earned his fifth Big Ten weekly award with the third star of the week on Tuesday, following a standout performance on the road against the Gophers. He remains top 10 in the country in save percentage (.927) and goals-against average (2.06).
“He’s been doing it all year. Maybe he wants a couple games back, but he’s been pretty consistent,” Rohlik said. “I think that’s his nature, his routine, that’s how he prepares. Certainly when you got a guy back there that’s playing like that, it gives your team confidence.”
With the success the Buckeyes have had this year, the seniors deserve credit for laying the foundation of program expectations heading into the Big Ten tournament.
“To me, it’s the character and what these guys are going to leave as their legacy of what we want out of Ohio State hockey,” Rohlik said.