For the last few seasons, it was clear that the Ohio State men’s hockey team was never considered a championship contender.
In last season’s opening USCHO poll, Ohio State started the year ranked No. 19 after making the NCAA tournament only months prior. That same season, the Buckeyes, ranked as a No. 1 seed in the their region in the 2018 NCAA tournament, were not predicted by many to make the Frozen Four.
Now, ranked as the No. 1 team in the NCAA heading into this year, Ohio State is no longer the underdog, and without that chip on its shoulder, the Buckeyes came out flat, and were defeated by UMass 6-3 in their home opener.
“Start to finish, you can’t fall behind three-zip to any team in college hockey and expect to win hockey games,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We didn’t have the start we wanted, I liked our compete coming back, but there’s a lot of teaching moments in that game, that we gotta learn from, so, I couldn’t even begin on one of them, but we have a lot.”
After starting off being outshot, and outplayed, through the first half of the game, Ohio State found themselves down 3-0 halfway through the second period, playing the underdog once again, right into its strength.
Before the period was over, junior forward Carson Meyer scored two goals to bring the Buckeyes within a goal with more than 20 minutes to go in the game.
Ohio State outshot UMass 17-5 in the second period.
After cutting the deficit to one goal, it was expected that the Buckeyes would come out firing in the third period, finally overtaking the Minutemen after Meyer opened up the floodgates.
Instead, it was UMass who answered, with sophomore center Philip Lagunov putting his team back up two goals, a goal that would prove to be the winner.
“They came really hard, they forecheck, they’re always going north,” senior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “We should have been ready but we didn’t execute on a lot of plays and they were able to capitalize on a lot of the opportunities that we gave them.”
Ohio State outshot the Minutemen 12-8 and won 13 of 18 faceoffs in the final period, and even put another goal in the net from senior forward Dakota Joshua, but it was not enough to overcome the original 3-0 deficit.
Larocque said the Buckeyes played better when their backs were against the wall.
“At that point, it was kind of a do or die, we had to come out and give them our best to stay in the game,” Larocque said. “The guys battled really hard, we got back into it, and some untimely breakdowns ended up costing us tonight.”
Ohio State looked like the better team on the ice for the final half of the game. It looked like a team that deserved the No. 1 ranking in the country.
But the first half looked like a team with a lot of areas to improve on. Rohlik agreed, and said he doesn’t care what the rankings say about his program.
“Number one, number 60 none of those numbers mean anything really,” Rohlik said. “We played desperate, and I think that’s, if you want to talk about a teachable moment, we gotta play desperate from start to finish, and we can’t fall behind three-zip.”
Ohio State gets a chance at redemption against UMass at 5 p.m. Saturday. This time, already with a loss under its belt, already with the expectations lowered, maybe the Buckeyes can become the team that shocked the NCAA a year ago.
Larocque said the team will need to show more consistency moving forward to prove itself as a title contender.
“It’s something we’ve struggled with in past years, being consistent throughout an entire game, and it’s something that we really need to improve,” Larocque said. “For us to remain an elite team in the NCAA, it’s something that needs to, to be focused on and executed by our team.”