As the Ohio State men’s hockey team skates into the NCAA Tournament Saturday, as a No. 1 regional seed for the first time, forward Tanner Laczynski said the Buckeyes will do so with their periscope stowed.
Dead ahead is Princeton, champion of the East Coast Athletic Conference, in the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Waiting in the wings on Sunday will be either Denver, the defending national champion, or Penn State.
But to think of the possible matchup would be folly, Laczynski said, keeping in mind the Buckeyes were tripped up by Minnesota-Duluth in an opening-round game last year.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t get past the first game,” he said. “We’ve just got to focus on the first game at hand and take it from there. Once that game’s up, if we get the chance to play, whether it be Denver or Penn State … you’re going to be playing a good team regardless.”
The Buckeyes have glanced into their tournament rearview mirror, though, with the veterans relying on the experience gleaned last year in an overtime loss to Duluth.
Then there was an overtime loss at Notre Dame a week ago in the Big Ten title game.
“We’ve kind of got a chip on our shoulder from our loss against Notre Dame,” Laczynski said.
But as a team, defenseman Matt Miller said, the nerves headed into the NCAA this time are “less than last year. I think being a No. 1 seed, we’re confident. We’ve just got to stick to our game plan here, be disciplined and we’ll be fine.”
The adrenaline will be flowing, Laczynski said, and the Buckeyes should not need a rousing pregame speech from coach Steve Rohlik to summon it.
“I think it’s just, basically, your (tournament) lives are on the line,” Laczynski said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You don’t want it to be your last game unless you are holding a trophy. Going into a game, you’ve just got to be at your top level … and that’s been building from the first week we were here.
“We play our whole lives wishing to get to the national championship and great moments like these, so if you’re not ready to play, I don’t know what to say.”
The brackets, meanwhile, say the Buckeyes should be well-prepared. Ohio State is one of four Big Ten teams in the 16-team field, including Notre Dame, whom OSU beat once in five chances; Michigan, whom the Buckeyes swept 5-0; and Penn State, against whom OSU went 1-3, including a shootout loss.
“That just goes to show the depth of the Big Ten and how far the program has come and all the programs in the Big Ten,” Laczynski said.
“I think that’s great to see and it’s definitely eye-opening, especially with Notre Dame this year, Michigan and Penn State. That’s big for the Big Ten and big moving forward.”