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Opinion: Ohio State men’s hockey blew it

Ohio State sophomore goalie Tommy Nappier goes down on one knee during the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan State on March 1. Ohio State won 5-1. Credit: Nick Hudak | For The Lantern

The date is Oct. 8. Ohio State men’s hockey comes in at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll before even playing a game this season.

The Buckeyes bring the vast majority of their talent back from the season before, a season where they stunned college hockey on the way to making a Frozen Four run, the second in the program’s history.

Sure, Ohio State loses Matthew Weis, the third-best scorer on the team, but Weis was injured throughout the entirety of the NCAA tournament, so the players coming back are well aware of their ability to make it without him.

Ohio State loses a strong defenseman in Janik Moser, as well as some solid depth players in Christian Lampasso, Kevin Miller and Luke Stork. But it brings back much, much more.

The date is Feb. 9. Ohio State is the No. 2 team in the country on the back of a seven-game win streak, and is playing up to the lofty expectations put before it.

Then it all went up in smoke.

For a team that had all the talent, all the experience and all the core pieces it needed to not only get back to the Frozen Four, but win it, all it took for Ohio State to throw it all away was losing the chip on its shoulder that it had through the past three seasons.

Growing complacent after all but sealing both the Big Ten and their tournament bid, the Buckeyes went 1-6-1 in their final eight games, looking like a shell of their former selves.

In 2017, Ohio State squeaked its way into the tournament, a major win for the program in its own right, then took the eventual NCAA runner-up to overtime before falling 3-2.

In 2018, the Buckeyes squeaked its way into a No. 1 seed, were still considered the underdog in their region and proceeded to put a beatdown on Denver, the reigning national champions, before losing to the team that would eventually win the tournament.

Both of those losses were to Minnesota Duluth. Ohio State would have had to make the final for the potential to play the Bulldogs for a third time.

Anyone who watched this team the past six weeks knew that was not going to happen.

Through losing six of its final eight games, Ohio State’s consistent offense went missing, its’ even more consistent defense and goaltending turned to swiss cheese and the motivation that was evident throughout the locker room to win the whole thing turned from action to simply words.

It seemed the Buckeyes found their wake-up call in the Big Ten tournament, getting embarrassed as the No. 1 seed by Penn State in a 5-1 beatdown on Ohio State’s home ice.

Captain and senior forward Mason Jobst saw the lack of drive from his team that day. He thought Ohio State could flip the switch come NCAA tournament time.

“If [Penn State] lost tonight, their season was actually over, and as much as I hate to say, maybe we didn’t have that desperation because we kind of knew that we were in the tournament,” Jobst said. “Now, as a senior class, the true desperation is gonna come out … our lives are on the line every single game from here on out.”

Ohio State dropped to a No. 3 seed because of its’ late-season struggles, and got a rematch with Denver in the first round, a year after beating the Pioneers 5-1 to advance to the Frozen Four.

Denver had the chip on its shoulder the Buckeyes had for the past two seasons. That was gone now, and the Pioneers came out with a 2-0 victory, officially eliminating Ohio State, ruining the program’s greatest chance to win a national championship it has ever had.

The Buckeyes only have themselves to blame.

The Denver-Ohio State game was a tight one, and one the Buckeyes certainly had a chance to win. Ohio State outshot the Pioneers 24-13, and only gave up one goal prior to pulling sophomore goalie Tommy Nappier.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that Ohio State shouldn’t have had to play Denver again, and most certainly not in the first round.

The date is March 30. Ohio State should be preparing for its’ second round matchup in the season that this program has dreamed about for the past four years since Jobst’s impressive freshman season, and likely for much longer before that.

Instead, the players are forced to watch from afar, only left to think about what went so wrong so fast.

Next year, the same high expectations likely won’t be there.

Jobst is gone, leaving behind one of the greatest individual legacies the program has ever seen. Joining him is Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Sasha Larocque, goalie Sean Romeo and key contributors like Dakota Joshua, Freddy Gerard, John Wiitala and Brendon Kearney.

This was the year for Ohio State to win its’ first national title.

Instead, it was bounced in the first round to a team it thoroughly outplayed a season ago.

There was something special about that Frozen Four team in 2018, and it wasn’t necessarily the talent.

But this year, with increased talent and increased expectation, the Buckeyes crumbled and faltered, leaving nothing but unknowns about if the players returning for next season can still pick up all the pieces.

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