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Men’s Hockey: No. 1 Ohio State faces UMass in home opener

Ohio State then-junior forward John Wiitala (10) pushed down Wisconsin freshman forward Sean Dhooghe (24) in front of then-redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo (30) in the first period on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won the game 6-2. Credit: Wyatt Crosher | Assistant Sports Editor

 

Coming off a sweep of Arizona State, the No. 1 Ohio State men’s hockey team will take its momentum back to Columbus in its home opener against UMass.

The Buckeyes (2-0-0), ranked as the top team in the nation in both the USCHO and USA Today Men’s Hockey polls in back-to-back weeks, earning their first wins of the season by scores of 3-2 and 3-0 on the road against Arizona State. UMass (2-0-0) enters the series having swept RPI in its opener.

With the Buckeyes returning home for the first time this season, senior forward John Wiitala looks forward to getting in front of the crowd for their home opener and seeing the energy that they bring.

“I think, obviously, when I first came in it was a foreign thing and I’d never seen it before,” Wiitala said. “It’s obviously exciting, you know, we started on the road and it’s exciting to get home.”

UMass is a program that’s on the rise, going 17-20-2 last season, a 12-game improvement from the year prior. They’re also a young team, with all its top five leading scorers last season being freshman.

This year’s roster has four seniors and three juniors, forcing the Minutemen to rely on their young core as the season progresses, specifically sophomore defenseman Cale Makar, who was the 4th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, and leads the team in points through two games.

The Buckeyes will have to contain the Minutemen offense, which came storming out of the gate this season with nine goals in their previous series. Head coach Steve Rohlik said he knows how to avoid giving UMass those scoring opportunities.

“When they’re the most dangerous is when you give them time and space, and that’s what we’ve got to take away,” Rohlik said.

This isn’t the Buckeyes’ first encounter with the Minutemen: Ohio State swept UMass in a series early last season. The Minutemen lost eight players over the offseason, but only 23 percent of their scoring, so the Buckeyes are familiar with this team and what it brings to the ice.

“They forecheck hard, they’re physical, they run and gun, they go up and down the ice as much as they possibly can,” senior defenseman Tommy Parran said. “That’s something that we conditioned for all year, all offseason, and the last couple weeks, and it’s a style of hockey that we’re able to defend against and play right with them.”

The puck drops for the Buckeyes’ home opener at the Schottenstein Center at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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