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'It's always about attacking the day': How Ohio State men's hockey stays positive in tough season

Bailey Johnson
Buckeye Xtra
Goaltender Tommy Nappier receives congratulations from his teammates after Ohio State survived to beat Michigan 3-2 on Friday in Value City Arena.

It would have been easy, Steve Rohlik thinks, for his Ohio State men's hockey team to develop a negative attitude.

The Buckeyes have had a tough season. It began with their being swept on the road at Minnesota in November, and it took them four tries to get their first win. Now, with just four games remaining before the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State (6-15-1) sits sixth of seven teams in the league.

For a team that made the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons, from 2017 to '19, and was in position to make the tournament last year before it was canceled, this is uncharted territory. The Buckeyes haven't won more than two games in a row all season, which they've done twice, and have had three losing streaks of three games or more.

But at no point, Rohlik said, has he seen his team start to give up.

"I give our guys so much credit," Rohlik said Friday after a 3-2 win over No. 7 Michigan in Value City Arena. "It would be easy to just show up and not give everything they’ve got in practice, and that’s the opposite of what they continue to do. If you keep approaching every day like that, you’re gonna get some results."

Ohio State mem's hockey coach Steve Rohlik has kept a positive attitude despite a roller-coaster ride of a season that has seen more dips than thrills.

Friday's win snapped a five-game losing streak, Ohio State's longest of the season, and Rohlik and his players were hopeful it would help the team start to build some momentum.

"Hopefully, we’ll go on a little run here," senior goaltender Tommy Nappier said Friday. "(We're) just working hard and giving it 110% every day in practice — just having faith and believing in each other and going out there and doing what we did tonight."

One night later, however, the Wolverines rolled to a 6-0 win, and Rohlik's season-long quest for his team to develop consistency returned to the forefront.

This was perhaps always going to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes, who have undergone quite a bit of roster turnover in the past two years. But when combining that turnover with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on practices, workouts, video sessions and everything else that goes into building a successful team, the reasons behind Ohio State's difficult season become clear.

Third-year regular Gustaf Westlund (29), here scoring against Michigan on Friday, is one of the few Ohio State veterans in the program.

"We've lost 16 guys over the last two years, so that's major turnover," Rohlik said Monday. "Obviously, last year's group basically being in four national tournaments in a row certainly set the standard and the bar high. That's what we want.

"But with a lot of new faces and not having the right ability to train and be together and kind of have that culture and how we do things, we had to adapt along the way. I think certainly that's affected this group."

The Buckeyes now have just two series — at No. 5 Wisconsin and home against Arizona State — left before the Big Ten tournament, which will be played in South Bend, Indiana, beginning March 18. Time is running low for them to build momentum, and the NCAA Tournament is out of reach unless they're able to win three games in three days to capture the Big Ten title.

But despite the end of the season nearing, Rohlik is focused on taking things day-by-day. He continues to praise his team for its commitment to working hard and keeping a positive attitude.

"I've never looked ahead," Rohlik said. "Even in the past, it's never about the end of the year. Never about this or that. It's always about the day. It's always about attacking the day. It's about, 'Let's get better today because that'll take care of tomorrow. Let's get better tomorrow. That'll take care of the next day.' If you can continue to do those things, obviously, the big picture starts to take care of itself."

bjohnson@gannett.com

@baileyajohnson_