Few people gave the Ohio State men’s hockey team a chance to come out of its region when the NCAA men’s hockey tournament field was announced in early March. Despite capturing the top seed in the Midwest region, Ohio State was not viewed as the favorite by experts, who flocked to pick the defending national champion, Denver, to emerge as regional champions.
No other motivation was needed.
Ohio State rode that chip on its shoulder all the way to a Frozen Four appearance, its first since 1998 and second in program history. It might be surprising to some, but not to sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski, who is eager to prove the doubters wrong yet again.
“A lot of people overlooked us, even though we are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament,” Laczynski said. “We go up against a team like Denver, who is highly touted. But to put five up on them and to only give up one, I think that’s unbelievable. It says a lot about our team. I think moving forward, teams are going to have to worry about us, not the other way around.”
Ohio State (26-9-5) will battle the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (23-16-3) in the first game of the Frozen Four at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a national championship berth on the line. It will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Minnesota Duluth enters the game as the West regional champion, having defeated Minnesota State and Air Force en route to its second consecutive Frozen Four appearance. Ohio State arrives in St. Paul having blasted Princeton and Denver by a combined score of 9-3.
Last year, the Bulldogs dispatched the Buckeyes in a 3-2 overtime decision in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes have a chance to avenge the loss they endured a year ago, all while heading to a possible first-ever national championship on Saturday.
“Anytime you lose in a big tournament, you are going to remember it,” Laczynski said. “Not very many people get this opportunity to play the same team again in the NCAA tournament. I think that’s awesome for us, to get that revenge and that redemption.”
Redemption won’t come easy for the Buckeyes. Not against a talented Bulldog team that had five underclassmen represent the United States in the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Freshmen defensemen Scott Perunovich, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg could be difference-makers on the blue line for the Bulldogs, while sophomore forwards Riley Tufte and Joey Anderson can make teams pay with their size and speed up front. Perunovich leads his team in points with 36, and Tufte has a team-high 16 goals.
Ohio State redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo will likely see Tufte and Anderson in his crease come Thursday. However, Romeo has plenty of experience matched up against talented teams and players in the Big Ten, a conference with three teams in the Frozen Four.
“They’re a good team. I watched a little bit of them play against Air Force,” Romeo said. “They’re a skilled team, they got a lot of offensive power, but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen all year, so I know our defense will be ready and I’m excited for the challenge.”
The Buckeyes will need all lines and defensive pairs to contribute in a time of year when teams rely on their depth to spark things offensively.
Ohio State has received that early in the NCAA tournament from senior forwards Christian Lampasso and Kevin Miller. Miller had three goals, and Lampasso added three assists in the Midwest regional weekend. Jobst said depth players like those two are vital to any team’s championship aspirations.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence. It shows the depth of our team,” Jobst said. “We were getting goals from guys that are seniors that we need to contribute to win a national championship and I’m sure it gives those guys confidence feeling really good going into this weekend.”
Confidence throughout the lineup has been a recipe for success for the Buckeyes. It would be easy for the emotions and nerves to get the best of the Buckeyes on such a big stage. Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik offered a simple message to his team.
“Go out there, be who we are, that’s why we are here,” Rohlik said. “Trying to control those emotions at the same time going out there and playing our best game, that’s the balance and that’s the magic.”