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Men’s Hockey: Ohio State uses stout defense to suffocate dangerous Princeton offense

Ohio State junior defenseman Sasha Larocque fights for the puck during the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament win against Princeton in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on March 24. Credit: Nick Hudak | Lantern photographer

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Redshirt junior goaltender Sean Romeo has been Ohio State’s “rock” time and time again in a record-setting season, his first as a Buckeye since transfering from Maine. Romeo has accumulated a 21-8-5 record, nearly tripling his wins while tending the net as a Black Bear.

Romeo made 23 saves on 25 shots in a 4-2 win against No. 16 Princeton Saturday night, propelling the top-seeded Buckeyes to a Midwest Regional Final matchup against second-seeded Denver on Sunday. 

While great goaltenders are crucial to a run to a championship run, defensemen are just as important in closing gaps against forwards while helping their goaltenders clear bodies from the crease to help them see incoming shots. That is especially important when taking on Princeton, which possesses junior forwards Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau, two of the top four scorers in the country.

Ohio State’s defense, which holds opponents to just 2.1 goal per game, the fourth-fewest in the nation, held Kuffner and Veronneau without a point. It held the NCAA’s second-best team offense scoreless in the first 59-and-a-half minutes of the game.

“It was just an awareness thing, but at the end of the day, I was just concerned on how we played knowing that they had high-end talent,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “I think our lines did a pretty good job and our ‘D.’”

Ohio State blocked 21 of Princeton’s shots, showing the defense’s willingness to sacrifice their bodies to stop the puck from reaching the goaltender. That puts another two layers of bodies in front of the shot before it even gets to Romeo.

“That’s kind of been something we preached all year,” Romeo said. “It makes my job a lot easier when you having guys buying in like that, blocking so many shots. It limits their scoring chances a lot and helps out defense a lot.”

This defense has seen its fair share of NCAA tournament-worthy offenses during the season in the Big Ten. Rohlik said the conference has helped his team deal with great teams in tight games in the NCAA tournament because they have been in those situations the entire year.

“Every week in the Big Ten, no matter who you play, you thought you were paying the best team in the league,” Rohlik said. “I think it speaks volumes of our league, it speaks volumes of the competition. It prepares you as a coach and a player.”

Ohio State will need every bit of that experience when it faces Denver, the defending national champion, in Sunday’s Midwest Regional Final if it hopes to reach its first Frozen Four since 1998.

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