Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik always talks about how tough it is to win college hockey games. It would be tough to come away with that impression watching Ohio State with 21 wins in 34 regular-season games this season.
The No. 6 Ohio State men’s hockey team (22-8-5, 15-8-2-1 Big Ten) added another win Friday, using a strong special teams performance to push the team to a 6-2 win against Michigan State (12-21-2, 6-17-2-1 Big Ten) at the Schottenstein Center in the first game of the Big Ten tournament matchup.
Rohlik knows the win is huge for his team, but that it will feel even bigger if his team earns another victory on Saturday.
“It’s very difficult to win at this level, especially against teams like [Michigan State], with our league, Rohlik said. “You know it’s a best two out of three, to get that first win, basically it just gives you the one-up, but that just means you are going to get their best effort tomorrow.”
The Buckeyes had three points from junior forward Mason Jobst, as well as two points from sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski and redshirt sophomore defenseman Wyatt Ege. Redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo added 18 saves on 20 shots in the win.
Special teams were key for the Buckeyes. The nation’s best penalty kill went 2-for-2, while the Buckeye power play took advantage of a Spartan penalty kill that is fourth-worst in the NCAA at 76 percent, going 3-for-5 on the night.
“I think it’s just executing and I think the guys just decided-we just don’t want to sit back, we kind of got to take it to them, and whoever you play,” Rohlik said. “I think that was the attitude right now, tonight, with our power play. I think that translated into the game.”
Two of the three Buckeye power-play goals came early after the penalty was called, each coming just 10 and eight seconds into the power play chances.
“The key is just giving it to our forwards,” Ege said. “As you can tell like, [ Laczynski] and [Jobst], they’re good, just give them and they’re gonna make some stuff happen.”
Laczynski benefited from a lethal Buckeye power play and now has four points in his past three games. The Buckeyes’ top scorer is finding his game in a crucial part of the year.
“This is the time you need to be playing your best hockey,” Laczynski said. “Even though I had that slump, like you said, I’m happy to be playing some of my best hockey here and come playoffs. It’s a big game and a big win”
The first period began with a lethargic stalemate, but the intensity and physicality picked up, resulting with a roughing call to Spartan senior defenseman Carson Gatt. That gave Ohio State its first power play chance on the night with 1:28 remaining in the period.
On the power-play chance, Laczynski fired a shot from the top of the right circle through a maze of players and past sophomore goaltender John Lethemon for the game’s opening score.
The Spartans got on the board just 3:12 into the second period when sophomore forward Patrick Khodorenko gathered a bouncing puck in the slot, firing it over the right shoulder of Romeo to even the score.
The Buckeyes took another shot on the power play and converted. Laczynski threw the puck to the goal and senior forward Matthew Weis directed it past Lethemon to regain the lead with 3:28 remaining in the period.
The Buckeyes added goals from Jobst and junior defenseman Sasha Larocque in the third, chasing Lethemon from the net.
Spartan senior goaltender Ed Minney came in relief of Lethemon, but couldn’t stop two more Buckeye goals. The Spartans and Buckeyes traded late goals for the final of 6-2.
Shots were 40-20 in favor of Ohio State. Lethemon made 25 saves on 29 shots and Minney made nine saves on 11 shots in a losing effort.
The Buckeyes have a chance to advance to the Big Ten semifinal game if they beat the Spartans in the second contest of the three-game series at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.