After three series of strong play on both ends of the ice, the No. 5 Ohio State men’s hockey team will face its toughest challenge of the season against No. 6 Penn State.
Ohio State (8-3-1, 3-1-0-0 Big Ten) enters the game having only allowed one goal in its past two series, while Penn State (9-2-0, 1-1-0-0 Big Ten) has hit the back of the net 29 times in its past four games, coming in as the highest scoring team in the nation.
Against a high-caliber team like the Nittany Lions, senior forward Mason Jobst said he’s looking forward to the matchup.
“I think they’ve got the best offense in the league and the country,” Jobst said. “They’ve got three of the top four scorers in the country as well and then I think we’re third in team defense. So it’ll be a good clash of teams and I’m excited to get it going.”
The Nittany Lions have seven players, all forwards, with at least 10 points this season. Sophomore forwards Evan Barratt and Alex Limoges are tied for the most points in the NCAA with 19.
Penn State leads the nation in goals for (63), goals per game (5.73) and shots on goal per game (41.73), unlike anything Ohio State has faced this season.
The Buckeyes defense has improved after blowout losses against UMass and Bowling Green, so senior defenseman Tommy Parran believes Ohio State is up to the task.
“They come hard with their forecheck. They’re relentless, they skate fast up the ice and they have a lot of middle speed coming at us, so that’s a lot for us to field,” Parran said. “We have our systems in place and our coaching staff is well aware that they’ve done that for the last three years that we’ve played them, so I don’t think anything is going to change on our end.”
While the high-scoring offense has carried Penn State to nine wins, the defense for the Nittany Lions has been lacking. They’ve allowed six goals in each of their past three games and have allowed 38 goals overall, 12th most in the nation.
With Ohio State averaging more than 30 shots on goal per game, there will be plenty of opportunities for the offense to create shots on Penn State’s suspect defense.
While head coach Steve Rohlik knows the offense will need to produce to beat Penn State, he doesn’t want this series to turn into a shootout.
“We know how hard they play,” Rohlik said. “[Penn State head coach] Guy [Gadowsky] has done a tremendous job and, again, they’ve got a lot of talent. It shows why they’re scoring a lot of goals. We just don’t want to get out there and get into a track meet. We want to go out there and play our game and play solid hockey.”
Ohio State is expected to continue splitting its starts in goal between redshirt senior Sean Romeo and sophomore Tommy Nappier. Romeo has a three-game shutout streak, an ongoing program record, and Nappier has a .958 save percentage, best in the NCAA.
The puck will drop for the top-six matchup between Ohio State and Penn State at the Schottenstein Center at 5 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.