The first half of the season for the Ohio State men’s hockey team has been defined by trends.
After going 4-1-1 during the first month of the season, the Buckeyes opened November on the best possible note by completing a home sweep of Michigan, with both wins coming on third-period goals.
The rest of the month didn’t go as smoothly. The Buckeyes were swept by Notre Dame before opening their next series with a loss to Penn State.
It was after that loss to the Nittany Lions that Ohio State turned a corner.
After salvaging a win in the series finale, the Buckeyes (9-4-1) swept Michigan State last weekend. They'll close the first half of their season this weekend against Minnesota (5-8-3), their final series before a three-week break.
“Throughout the season, we’re going to have some ups and downs,” junior defenseman Grant Gabriele said. “I think we’ve adjusted well when we’ve been down and now that we’re on an upswing we just need to keep going.”
Special teams have been key. In addition to being seventh in the nation with a 25% power play conversion percentage, the Buckeyes have stopped 86% of their opponents’ chances, 14th-best in the nation.
“The team that wins that special teams battle is usually the one that’s going to win the game,” coach Steve Rohlik said. “I think we’ve got to continue to improve in both of those areas.”
Despite being second in the Big Ten standings, OSU has been inconsistent on offense at times. Sophomore Gustaf Westlund (eight goals, six assists) and senior Tanner Laczynski (five goals, nine assists) are the only Buckeyes with double-digit point totals.
“I don’t mind if we win 1-0 or 2-1, I’ll keep taking them, but certainly I’d like to see a little more five-on-five goals and our power plays improving,” Rohlik said.
Four of Ohio State's nine wins have come in one-goal games.
“Playing in a lot of one-goal games is good; I think it’s college hockey at its finest,” Rohlik said. “The more one-goal games you’re in, the better you’re going to be.”
Although the Golden Gophers are struggling, Rohlik knows his team needs to be on the top of its game.
“Minnesota is young and has a ton of skill,” he said. “They love to get up and down the ice. We don’t want to play in a racehorse hockey game, we want to play with structure. If we need to get up the ice we will, but we don’t want to play loose.”