Ohio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik has been demanding “five connected” for months, and he saw it lead to great things again Sunday night when the Buckeyes won their way into the NCAA Frozen Four for just the second time in program history.
“Right from the start of the season, our guys bought in, five-connected,” Rohlik said.
That adhesion from defense to offense while goalie Sean Romeo held down the fort was on display for all to see in the 5-1 win over Denver in the Midwest regional final in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Buckeyes, spurred by a suffocating defense and two goals from Kevin Miller — both off assists from Christian Lampasso — dispatched the defending national champion Pioneers and headed to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1998.
Indeed, in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 5, Ohio State will be part of a Big Ten jamboree, joining fellow conference members Notre Dame, the league regular-season and tourney champion, and Michigan. Notre Dame and Michigan will meet in one semifinal, and Ohio State will take on Minnesota-Duluth, the team that knocked the Buckeyes out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round a year ago.
That loss in sudden-death overtime made some folks “forget, we were a pretty good team a year ago,” Rohlik said Sunday of his Buckeyes, who nevertheless were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten this season. They rose to finish second in the regular season, then lost the league tournament's title game to Notre Dame in sudden-death overtime, but they earned a No.1 regional seed for the first time in program history.
“It’s a been a journey and a process, and sometimes you forget to enjoy it,” Rohlik said.
The Buckeyes did their scoring against Denver in the last two periods after the teams did not score in the first. Dakota Joshua broke the ice 3:51 into the second with a blind backhand flick from in front of Denver’s stellar goalie, Tanner Jaillet, who seemed to never see the puck.
“It was just kind of a backhand hoping for something to happen, and it did,” Joshua said
Eight minutes later, Miller and Lampasso teamed up for the first time. OSU pushed the lead to 3-0 at 9:27 into the third when Matt Joyaux converted in front on a pass from Tanner Laczynski, who had skated 120 feet with a steal before making the crossing assist.
After Denver’s only goal — OSU’s Romeo had 30 saves on a night when the defense also had 19 blocks — the Miller-Lampasso duo answered. The goal came 11:51 into the third and provoked Denver to take drastic measures a couple of minutes later, pulling goalie Jaillet in favor of pressing the attack.
That backfired with just under six minutes to play when OSU captain Mason Jobst snared a loose puck and wristed it three-quarters of the length of the rink for the goal that truly iced the win.
“These guys come to work every day … and I couldn’t be more proud of this group, 27 guys pulling the chain together,” Rohlik said. “And that’s what you saw again tonight.”