After earning the No. 3 seed in the West Region, the Ohio State men’s hockey team will travel to Fargo, North Dakota, to challenge Denver for a spot in the NCAA West Regional Final.
Ohio State (20-10-5, 13-7-4 Big Ten) has once again seen its USCHO ranking drop following its 5-1 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, this time from No. 6 down to No. 9. Denver (22-11-5) has taken the Buckeyes’ previous ranking, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.
Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said his team has learned from its mistakes in the past Penn State match and is ready for this weekend.
“Our guys understand what we did, our lack of what we did against Penn State, and we’ve got enough guys who’ve been through the trenches to understand how we’ve got to prepare for this weekend,” Rohlik said. “It’s been a good week-and-a-half.”
Denver is ranked No. 10 in the country in win percentage with Ohio State trailing just behind at No. 11.
Ohio State senior forward John Wiitala said the high stakes of the tournament makes this upcoming match all the more stressful.
“I think we’d like to say that the nerves are the same, and it’s just another hockey game,” Wiitala said. “But obviously, just like we talked about, the desperation: we all know that one game and you lose, you’re going home.”
On defense, the Pioneers just barely edge out the Buckeyes. Denver is currently ranked No. 9 with 2.08 goals allowed per game, with the Buckeyes close behind at No. 14. Two of the top goalies in the country will play: Denver sophomore goalie Devin Cooley and Ohio State sophomore goalie Tommy Nappier are tied at No. 3 in the country with a .934 save percentage.
Nappier is the likely starter for the Buckeyes after taking the start over redshirt senior goalie Sean Romeo in the lone Big Ten tournament game, something Rohlik said following that loss was a decision based on Nappier’s impressive statistics on the season.
In terms of offense, Denver lacks the same aggression Ohio State possesses. The Pioneers are No. 29 with 2.82 goals per game, while the Buckeyes rank No. 17. The Denver offense is led by junior forward Liam Finlay, who has accumulated 15 goals and 20 assists so far this season, good for 0.92 pointe per game.
The teams have not met this season.
Ohio State senior defenseman Sasha Larocque said the fact that they haven’t played each other this season makes for a different experience than the team has been used to with Big Ten play.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any more stressful, but it is a different experience not knowing exactly what you’re going to get,” Larocque said. “Playing a team out of conference that we haven’t seen before, you don’t really know them too well.”
The semifinals match between No. 2 Denver and No. 3 Ohio State will begin at 4 p.m. Friday in Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota.