Ohio State’s seniors in men’s hockey still have a lot to play for

Ray Stein
Ronnie Hein is one of eight seniors who will be playing their final regular-season games for Ohio State this weekend. [Ric Kruszynski/Ohio State Athletics]

Ronnie Hein has been around the Ohio State men’s hockey program long enough to know that Senior Weekend is among the emotional highlights of a long season.

“I’ve seen them for the past three years, and it’s great to see everybody’s family out on the ice, all sharing that moment,” Hein said. “It’s going to be a real special time for everybody.”

But Hein, a senior captain whose family will travel from Chelsea, Michigan, for the occasion, also knows that celebrating the end of a collegiate career for eight seniors will ring hollow if Ohio State doesn’t handle its business on the ice.

“We’re going to enjoy it as much as we can, but once it’s over we have a game to play — and hopefully win two — this weekend,” Hein said.

On that front, the Buckeyes certainly have motivation to perform well in a two-game series against Wisconsin to finish the Big Ten regular season.

If Ohio State (18-10-1, 11-8-3-1) beats the Badgers on Friday and Saturday nights at Value City Arena, it will finish no worse than a tie for first in the Big Ten.

Penn State leads the seven-team conference with 41 points, but the Nittany Lions have finished their 24-game league schedule. Ohio State is tied with Minnesota for second place with 37 points but would earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with two wins, regardless of what the Golden Gophers do in a weekend series with Michigan.

The top seed in the Big Ten tournament carries weight. Whichever team finishes first gets a tournament bye to the semifinals while the other six teams play a best-of-three series, beginning next weekend.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake for us,” Hein said. “Everything’s in our hands here. We’ve got two games to win, and everybody knows that. But you can’t do that unless you win Friday night.”

Ohio State put itself in position to earn the top seed with a gutty sweep last weekend at Michigan State, where the Buckeyes grinded out a 1-0 victory on Friday, then rallied with three goals in the final five minutes to win 4-2 on Saturday.

“It’s no secret we’ve had our ups and downs in the second half of the year,” senior Carson Meyer said. “But going on the road and getting two huge wins was huge for our confidence. We know we can play through and win games.”

In truth, this senior class has shown that sort of determination throughout their time at Ohio State. The group has one Big Ten regular-season title (2019), a Frozen Four trip (2018) and 85 wins entering this weekend.

“You look at our track record the past three years, they’re a huge part of it,” coach Steve Rohlik said. “They came in as wide-eyed freshmen, and now they’re elder statesmen and have an opportunity to do something (great).

“Our guys aren’t naive to what’s in front of them. We just want to go out and play the best we can.”