Ohio State was given a steep climb when it drew No. 2 overall seed Minnesota-Duluth for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten and an untimely injury have added a few rungs to the ladder. When the Buckeyes take the ice on Friday in Fargo, North Dakota, to face Minnesota-Duluth in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years, they will be without their two assistant captains — Josh Healey and Drew Brevig — who also happen to be senior defensemen.
Brevig will miss what remains of the season because of injury. Barring a run to the Frozen Four, Healey will miss the rest of the year, too, after the conference added a game to his automatic one-game suspension earned when he picked up his third game misconduct of the season in last Friday’s Big Ten tournament loss to Wisconsin.
Given that, Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik will be forced to utilize the only six available defensemen he has. That likely means increased minutes for freshmen Gordi Myer and Matt Miller, who played 21 and 19 games this season, respectively.
“We’re not going to go in there and change who we are,” Rohlik said. “You can’t exchange two senior captains and the amount of experience and games that they’ve played for two freshmen as far as experience goes, but at the end of the day these two guys have played a lot of minutes for us this year. I have all the confidence in the world that they’re going to go out there and do the job.”
Of the 16 teams in the tournament, Ohio State’s goals-against average of 2.89 is the highest. The Buckeyes enter the tournament tied for 30th nationally defensively but balance that out with an offense tied for second-best — OSU puts up 3.97 goals per game thanks to the nation’s best power-play (32.2 percent).
Removing Healey, a second-team all-conference pick this year, and Brevig’s 124 career games from the equation points to a need to try to outscore the Bulldogs (25-6-7), seeded No. 1 in the four-team West Regional. But senior forward Nick Schilkey, who is second nationally at 0.79 goals per game, said that won’t be the approach for the fourth-seeded Buckeyes (21-11-6).
“I think the biggest thing is making sure that us as forwards focus on getting back and helping the (defense) out,” Schilkey said. “It’s not about trying to cheat the game and go keep scoring more and more goals, necessarily, or do more than we need to do up there. It’s more a matter of getting back and helping them out.”
And hopefully, in the process, spark the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since a Frozen Four appearance in 1998.
“You wouldn’t say they’ve got a lot of weaknesses looking at them, but they’re as beatable as anybody else,” Rohlik said. “We’re going to go empty the tanks and go in there with confidence.”