It’s time for the Big Ten men’s hockey tournament, and as No. 2 seed Ohio State prepares for seventh-seeded Michigan State this weekend at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes’ Brendon Kearney is seeking no close shaves.

Per tradition, he and several of his teammates are growing playoff beards they hope they won’t trim until the end of the Frozen Four in early April. Based on experience, Kearney said he gained an obvious head start by stowing his razor a couple of weeks ago.

“Last year, with the Big Ten playoff being one week and then you’re right into the NCAA, I think guys kind of cheat like me and grow it out a couple of weeks before,” the junior forward said. “But I think everyone (this time) kind of clean shaves because we have three weeks for Big Ten and a couple of extra weeks in the NCAA.”

There’s a new beard-growing time frame to the Big Ten this season, with the playoffs spread over three weekends. Although regular-season champion Notre Dame earned a first-round bye this week, Ohio State and Michigan State are among the three quarterfinal matchups playing best-of-three series, with the higher seed hosting all games.

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The semifinals and final will be single games, with the higher seeds hosting. If Ohio State advances past this weekend, it would host the highest remaining seed on March 10 at Nationwide Arena. (The high school wrestling statetournament will be at Value City Arena.)

What thickens the plot with No. 6-ranked Ohio State against Michigan State is that recent results show there’s little difference between the top and bottom teams in the league. The Spartans were a rebuilding group going into the season, with 19 sophomores or freshmen, but in the past month they split a two-game series at Ohio State and did the same with Notre Dame last week.

“The last seven games we are 3-3-1. They battle and there’s not a lot of quit in them,” Michigan State coach Dan Cole said. “So we’re excited about it, we think we’re playing pretty well. … We’ve got to figure out a way to beat somebody two out of three times and get after Ohio State this weekend.”

In that regard, “We’re going to need some things to go right for us,” Cole said. “Ohio State, they’re as good as anybody in the country from what we can tell.”

Though the Spartans managed what turned out to be a season-turning split with the Buckeyes at Value City Arena a few weeks back, OSU coach Steve Rohlik liked the way his team did not lose its bearings and managed to hang on to second place down the stretch of the league season and maintain home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Rohlik said. “I think our crowds over the last month have been incredible. … In this new format, that’s why you play the whole season, to put yourself in this position to have home ice. So we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

tmay@dispatch.com

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