The Ohio State men’s hockey team has only six games left in the regular season.
Yet in some ways, the Buckeyes’ season feels like it’s just beginning. Part of that is because the Big Ten standings are so bunched at the top.
Thirteenth-ranked Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State, who play Friday and Saturday at Value City Arena, are tied atop the conference with 9-7-2 records and 29 points. Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame have 28 points, with the Spartans and Golden Gophers having played two fewer games.
So the time to peak is now, and the Buckeyes (16-9-3 overall) hope they can do just that. They’ve been inconsistent this season. Traditionally a terrific road team, the Buckeyes have struggled away from home. Normally stingy allowing goals, Ohio State has had more defensive breakdowns than coach Steve Rohlik would like.
“We’re always searching for the consistency, be it game to game or period to period,” Rohlik said. “That’s really the magic. The teams that are having success are the ones that can continuously play consistently from start to finish.
“The one thing we’ve done is consistently given ourselves a chance to win. That’s been there. We just haven’t been able to continuously put a full 60 minutes at the top of our game together.”
There’s plenty that Rohlik likes about his team. Junior goalie Tommy Nappier has a .929 save percentage.
“I think he’s one of the best goaltenders in college hockey,” Rohlik said. “I think he’s proven that in the three years he’s been here. He brings it every night and gives us an opportunity every night.”
The Buckeyes have a balanced offense. Ten players have at least 11 points, led by Tanner Laczynski’s 26. When the Buckeyes play with the structure Rohlik wants, they’re formidable.
“When we’re playing well, it’s because of our team (concept),” Rohlik said. “It’s not because one guy is scoring three goals. That’s just not how we’re built this year.”
If that sounds like the NHL team a few miles south, well, there’s something to that.
“You know, we are similar, to be honest with you,” Rohlik said.
The Blue Jackets have been on quite a roll since December. The Buckeyes hope they can emulate that.
“We’ve been kind of up and down the second half of the season,” said senior forward Carson Meyer, a Blue Jackets draft pick from Powell. “We just came off of a three-game losing streak and then got a big win Saturday night at Michigan. I think we’re in the right direction now and will catch our stride at the best possible time before the playoffs.”
It starts against Penn State (17-9-2), which is known for its explosive offense.
“Everyone’s pretty close (in the standings), and we understand the gravity of every game,” said Austin Pooley, a junior forward from Dublin. “It just puts an onus on us every day to be your best every day. Every game could be the difference in winning the Big Ten, getting a bid in the NCAA tournament or getting home ice in the Big Ten tournament. We’re excited about the opportunity.”