Ohio State men’s hockey having unexpected turnaround season led by newcomers
After a disastrous 7-19-1 season last year, the Buckeyes are back in the conversation for a fourth NCAA tournament berth in five tournaments.
After three years of building the program, Ohio State men's hockey coach Steve Rohlik led the Buckeyes to three straight NCAA tournaments, including, in 2018, the program’s first Frozen Four since 1998. His team won the Big Ten the next season. And Ohio State would have reached a fourth NCAA tournament had the pandemic not forced the 2020 tournament to be canceled.
So when the Buckeyes had their worst season since 1994-95 at 7-19-1 last season, it was a bit of a shock and led to downgraded expectations for this year.
That makes what Ohio State is doing now somewhat remarkable. Ohio State is currently riding a six-game winning streak and positioned fourth in a powerful Big Ten Conference.
Despite being the preseason pick to finish last in the league, Ohio State has a mix of talented freshmen and transfers who have combined for one of the deeper teams Rohlik has had at OSU.
“That's why we've had so much success," said forward Jake Wise, who transferred from Boston University, " ... When you have four lines that can score, that's a big confidence boost.”
Ohio State returned its top six scorers from a season ago and lost eight players.
The team's offseason additions included the Buckeyes' four current points leaders: Wise as well as freshmen Georgeii Merkulov, Mason Lohrei and Cam Thiesing. Also new to the team is Czech freshman goaltender Jakub Dobes, who owns a .927 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average.
The Buckeyes are 10th in scoring offense and 11th in scoring defense in the country, but rank 33rd and 40th in power-play and penalty-kill percentage, respectively.
Late in games, the Buckeyes have been the ones outworking their opponents. They’ve outscored the opposition 43-14 in the third period. Last weekend at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes overcame two third-period deficits to secure a sweep over the Badgers.
Ohio State can make a move up the Big Ten standings and improve its odds for the NCAA tournament with two home games against Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday at Value City Arena. Given how they’ve defied odds so far, there won’t be a lack of confidence in the group.
“It's not easy to win at this level and our group has a lot of belief and faith in what we're doing,” Rohlik said.
Notre Dame at Ohio State
When: 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 1460 AM