It may have been a disappointing end to the 2019-20 Ohio State men’s hockey season, but the year still yielded plays and performances worth celebrating.
Junior goaltender Tommy Nappier and senior defenseman Gordi Meyer earned the titles of Most Valuable Player and Best Defensive Player in a vote from their teammates Monday, but the excitement came threefold from the trio of Buckeyes whose impact wasn’t always the headline of the stat sheet.
Freshman forward Jaedon Leslie, sophomore forward Matthew Jennings and junior forward Eugene Fadyeyev each got a slice of the Most Improved Player honor, helping to validate a year in which each of them had key moments for the Buckeyes.
Leslie, who scored a game-winning goal in overtime against Wisconsin to complete a first-round sweep of the Badgers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, said he was glad to share the award with Fadyeyev and Jennings.
“All three of us have our own things to overcome and we all got better over the course of the year,” Jennings said.
After missing the first half of the season with an injury, Leslie said his favorite moment of his 15 games played was sweeping Michigan State Feb. 22, giving the Buckeyes an opportunity to win the Big Ten title the following week.
During the season, Leslie had four goals — two of which game-winners — and three assists.
After his first year of Buckeye hockey, Leslie said he will enter next season with a similar mindset to what he had this past campaign.
“From there, to continue to grow my confidence and hopefully by that point, I will be able to really take a load off of some of the seniors that are leaving this year,” Leslie said.
Leslie said he learned as much from Ohio State’s departing seniors about how to be a better person as he did about hockey.
“All of them are exceptional guys not only on the ice but off the ice,” Leslie said. “I think I can learn from that is to always treat guys on and off the ice how you want to be treated. Each one of them did that.”
Jennings scored his first goal at Penn State, and of the 29 games he played this season, he said his favorite moment came during the game against Notre Dame Jan. 17.
The Buckeyes were down 4-2 after a Notre Dame goal with 3:42 to play, but scored twice in the final 1:37 to force overtime and an eventual tie. The Fighting Irish secured an extra league point by winning the shootout.
“It showed our team this year and its resiliency and how you could never power down. We were always going to find a way,” Jennings said.
Entering next season as an upperclassman, Jennings said his main goal is to win both the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament and NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.
“We got cut short in what we all felt was a doable thing and thought that we had the group to do it,” Jennings said.
On top of his Most Improved Player distinction, Fadyeyev was also dubbed Unsung Player of the Year by his teammates. In 32 games, he finished with five assists and 18 blocked shots.
The Ukraine native said he felt surprised winning both awards, but appreciates being recognized by his teammates and the coaching staff.
“The guys always supported me since I was a freshman until my junior year. Everyone was being supportive and helping me out,” Fadyeyev said. “My freshman year, a lot of seniors were telling me it will take some time to get used to college hockey and I was working extra hard doing some extra work with the guys and on my own.”
Going into his senior season as one of the most improved players is motivation for Fadyeyev to take on more responsibility and be a leader for the rest of the team, he said.
“We are losing a good amount of guys. I have to work hard and be ready for the next season just to be prepared and take more responsibility than I did before and help the team out,” Fadyeyev said.