The Ohio State men’s hockey team will hit the road for the final time in the regular season, playing for a shot at a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten.
No. 12 Ohio State (16-10-4, 9-8-3 Big Ten) meets with Michigan State (14-15-1, 10-9-1) in East Lansing, Michigan, for a two-game series. The two teams are tied in the conference standings.
“Michigan State’s one of the best teams in our league and I think we’ve all seen that,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “And everybody is surprised that they’re at the top of the league, except for myself and the rest of the coaches.”
This past week, the Buckeyes were on a break for their bye week. Rohlik said he isn’t worried about his team growing rusty, however.
“Our guys understand what time of the year it is and where it’s at, and I think it’s showing in our week off here, in our practice and our prep,” Rohlik said. “I like where our guys are right now.”
To leapfrog the Spartans in Big Ten standings, Ohio State will need to break down the brick wall formed by Michigan State senior goaltender John Lethemon. Lethemon ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten — and No. 4 in the country — with a .935 save percentage on the season. His 2.12 goals against average is second in the conference.
In front of Lethemon is a defense anchored by redshirt senior defenseman Jerad Rosburg and junior defenseman Tommy Miller, who have blocked 66 and 59 shots, respectively.
“They’re very talented. They’ve got some difference-makers and their goaltenders have been very good all year,” Rohlik said. “They play hard and they defend and we understand that and every time we play Michigan State, it seems to be a tight game.”
While Michigan State’s defense allows the third fewest goals in the Big Ten, its offense ranks last in the conference for points, goals and shooting percentage.
When the Spartans do find success, it typically comes through senior forward Patrick Khodorenko. His 31 points rank No. 5 in the Big Ten this season.
No other Michigan State player has more than 20 points.
Ohio State freshman forward Tate Singleton said Michigan State’s low offensive production has to do with its pace of play.
“Hard team to play against. They kind of slow the game down, and we like to play fast and quick, and I think if we play our systems and get the puck in deep, play simple — we’ll do pretty well,” Singleton said.
Ohio State and Michigan State met once earlier this season for a two-game series in Columbus Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The Buckeyes swept the Spartans with 3-1 and 2-0 victories.
Ohio State senior defenseman Gordi Myer said it will be important to sweep the weekend again.
“You see how close the standings are. You can be in first place or basically last place in the matter of one weekend,” Myer said. “I think it’s really important to try and get all six points honestly.”
The Spartans are coming off a 4-1 and 5-1 series loss against the Michigan Wolverines this past weekend.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.