After splitting its home series against Michigan, Ohio State remained the No. 4 team in the country in the USCHO.com poll released Monday.
The unranked Wolverines stole the first game of the series in a 2-1 win behind 22 saves from Michigan junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
The defeat seemed like an upset for Ohio State, who fell to 12-5-4 before coming back and winning the second game of the series 4-2.
This is a pattern the Buckeyes have maintained all season long.
Ohio State is 5-4-2 in the first game of its series this season, scoring 32 goals while allowing 32 goals in the 11 games.
In the 12 games to close series, the Buckeyes are 8-1-2, outscoring opponents 35-16.
“We bounced back for sure, like we always do,” junior forward Ronnie Hein said on Wednesday. “We do a good job of that, we saw that at the very beginning of the season and we did it again against Michigan State.”
Before the series against Michigan, Ohio State gave up a 7-4 lead late in the third period during the first game against Michigan State, leading to a 7-7 tie, which the Buckeyes lost in overtime, costing them a point in the Big Ten standings.
“I don’t think anybody was too happy about the result on Friday,” head coach Steve Rohlik said about the series against the Spartans. “Certainly wasn’t the prettiest of ties for us, and I think we were just more detailed the next day, but again I attribute that to our seniors and our leadership group.”
The key difference between the first and second games comes at the back end. Redshirt senior goalie Sean Romeo has started the first game of every series, while sophomore goalie Tommy Nappier has started the following night.
Romeo has a .904 save percentage, while allowing 2.63 goals per game.
Nappier, on the other hand, is boasting a .945 save percentage and allowing 1.58 goals per game, both No. 2 in the NCAA.
But Rohlik won’t blame his goaltenders. Instead, he said it has to do with the rest of the players in front of him, regardless of the outcome.
“It’s never a goalie’s fault. It’s a team’s fault, and certainly we gotta be five-man connected with our goaltender instead of sometimes leaving him out to dry,” Rohlik said. “I think it has a lot to do with our team and our focus and our detail.”
Senior forward Mason Jobst leads the team with 13 goals and 25 points. Seven of his 13 goals came in the second game of Ohio State’s series.
Jobst said the tie against Michigan State was “unacceptable,” and that the focus in the next game was the reason for success.
“I think everyone was on the same page.We were all focused,” Jobst said. “It wasn’t like we’re on a five-game skid or anything like that, it was just let’s nip it in the bud right now before things get out of hand.”
Things haven’t gotten out of hand for the Buckeyes all season, but the team has yet to figure out how to consistently win when in front of Romeo.
Nappier’s stats outshine the redshirt senior goaltender, and Romeo has regressed from his previous year, in which he ended with 2.06 goals against and a .927 save percentage.
Still, Rohlik doesn’t see it as a problem with the guy in goal.
Ohio State’s head coach is looking to his leaders, to his captains, Jobst and senior defenseman Sasha Larocque.
And for all the struggles the Buckeyes have had in their first games this season, they have not lost consecutive games this season.
“It’s the culture of this group. No one wants to lose a hockey game and especially doesn’t want to lose two in a row,” Rohlik said. “We want to turn things around on Fridays. Certainly the resilience of this group, the guys have been around a long time, we’ve got a great leadership group. They’re just determined not to let it happen back-to-back.”