Ohio State will have hometown advantage when it plays Michigan in a Big Ten tournament semifinal on Saturday at Nationwide Arena.
The Buckeyes, second in the Big Ten regular season, knew that if they hosted a semifinal, it wouldn’t be in Value City Arena because of the state high school wrestling tournament. The backup venue happens to be the rink run by the Blue Jackets. Ohio State is 8-2-3 there over the past 19 years, including a win over Michigan in the last trip there, on March 6, 2016.
Though it’s clearly the next-best thing, it’s not home.
“You do have to treat it a little bit differently,” coach Steve Rohlik said. “But the exciting part is we’re here, we’re in Columbus, and we’re hoping to have a great crowd down there. It’s a fantastic arena.”
>> Video | Steve Rohlik talks about playing at Nationwide Arena
Adding to the atmosphere will be the urgency for both teams. Unlike last week’s quarterfinals, which were best-of-three (OSU swept Michigan State, Michigan swept Wisconsin), the semifinals are one-and-done. Regular-season champion Notre Dame plays at Penn State, and the winners move to the higher seed for next week’s championship match.
That Ohio State swept Michigan in four regular-season games is moot, considering the way the Wolverines have improved under first-year coach Mel Pearson. They are riding a seven-game winning streak.
Then there is the never-discounted rivalry aspect of the OSU-Michigan series. It’s not The Game, but it is one game with the prize being a chance to play for the Big Ten title.
“It will be pretty exciting, there will be a lot of heat in that game, for sure, being what is on the line,” OSU defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “Obviously both teams have a good shot for a bid to the (NCAA) tournament without a win, but at the same time, we want that Big Ten title. So things are going to be pretty heated that way, more than the four games prior.”
Ohio State forward Matthew Weis seconded that.
“Every game we’ve played against them this year has been a great game,” Weis said. “Their top line (including Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone) scores a lot of their goals, so we definitely have to be aware of them. But they’re a great all-around team. It’s going to be a great battle on Saturday.”
Again, there also is the setting, something Weis thinks will rev the players on both sides.
“It’s an NHL rink, and I think for all of us, our goal is to finally get there” to the league, he said. “So it’s pretty cool to play here, but at the end of the day you’ve got to look at it as just another game and we’ve got to do our thing to get a ‘W.’ ”