Last season, the Ohio State men’s hockey team made a surprise NCAA tournament run that ended abruptly in a 1-2 loss to the eventual national champions, Minnesota-Duluth.
After a season in which the Buckeyes reached the Frozen Four for the first time in 20 years, it would be hard to blame them for looking back and reminiscing about what could have been.
But, for head coach Steve Rohlik, there isn’t time for that.
“Last year is over,” Rohlik said. “This is a new team, a new group. Everyone’s different and you’ve got to earn something every day. Everybody’s 0-0 right now and you’ve got to prove yourself every day, you’ve got to earn everything you get.”
Ohio State enters the season with expectations that haven’t been present in years past, earning its first No. 1 ranking in team history in both the USCHO and USA Today Men’s Hockey polls and receiving 18 first-place votes in both polls.
The roster has 21 returning players and brings back 75 percent of its scoring, so there’s no reason to assume the Buckeyes can’t return to the big stage in the spring.
Senior forward Mason Jobst, junior forward Tanner Laczynski, senior forward Dakota Joshua and other veterans will lead the Buckeyes’ offense. Jobst comes into the season as the NCAA’s active leading scorer with 128 points and Laczynski led the team in scoring last year with a career-high 47 points.
One key loss during the offseason was forward Matthew Weis, a former Ohio State hockey player who accounted for 37 points — third on the team last year. Junior forward transfer Carson Meyer from Miami (Ohio) will help to make up that production, but Rohlik believes the job doesn’t fall on just one player.
“I think we’re not counting on one guy,” Rohlik said. “Our new guys coming in, our veterans coming back, I think there’s a lot of competition up front and I’m looking at a group of guys that can contribute a lot.”
The defense for the Buckeyes was one of the best in the nation last year, leading in penalty-kill percentage and ranking No. 3 in goals allowed per game. With losing only two senior defensemen during the offseason, redshirt junior defenseman Wyatt Ege believes they should be able to pick up where they left off.
“It’s just important to stick to our system,” Ege said. “We have a good coaching staff and we’ve got a lot of strong defensemen on our team, so just play within our system and it will happen again.”
With a team returning many juniors and seniors, there is a strong sense of veteran leadership on the ice and in the locker room that could have a notable impact, even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
“If you look back at all the teams that have won it in the past, the Unions and the Providences, those guys, they don’t have the top scoring freshmen or what so, it’s always the older guys and the leadership that have been together for the four years,” Jobst said.
After last season, Ohio State is a known entity. Players and coaches, both in the locker room and around the country, know the Buckeyes’ potential.
Though the veteran leaders on the team understand they must prove themselves on the ice first, they know where their talent can take them in the 2018-19 campaign.
“I think that we know how good we can be, and we saw our potential,” redshirt senior goaltender Sean Romeo said. “So, I think nothing less than a championship is acceptable this year.”
The Buckeyes start their season off with a series at Arizona State on Oct. 12 and 13.