The first goal of securing a first-round bye for the Ohio State men’s hockey team was accomplished last week despite losing pair of home games to archrival Michigan.
Another step could be reached this weekend but the Buckeyes know that at the very least they will need one point at first-place Miami to get home ice in their quarterfinal series against Ferris State on March 15-17.
Ohio State (13-14-7, 12-9-5-1) is tied for fourth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association with Ferris State heading into the final two games.
Ferris State holds the first tiebreaker, having one more league win than OSU.
While the Buckeyes face their in-state rival at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, the Bulldogs visit Michigan twice.
“It’s still always fun to come to the rink when you have real important games on the line such as Miami this weekend and playoffs moving forward,” OSU freshman defenseman Sam Jardine said.
Third-ranked Miami (21-8-5, 16-6-4-4) presents a formidable challenge to the Buckeyes, who hope Michigan can put a hurting on Ferris State like the Wolverines did in winning 5-3 and 6-3 in Columbus.
“We’ve got to get refocused here, go down there and get some points,” OSU assistant coach Steve Rohlik. “We’d love to be able to play here at home in the playoffs.”
The Buckeyes were in the top 10 defensively before leaking against Michigan so the emphasis will be on tightening the ship. After all, defense wins championships, or so it is said.
“We were all disappointed in ourselves. For the better part of the year we’ve taken pride in our defense,” Jardine said. “You have to learn from that experience. You have to be somewhat satisfied it happened then compared to the CCHA playoffs coming up. We need to be a better group because of it. We’ve worked in practice on first pass breakouts and being more crisp that way.”
Miami presents a talented offense and the nation’s stingiest defense (1.56 goals per game).
“We want to bounce back,” Rohlik said. “We’re playing one of the better teams in the country in Miami. They’re fighting for a league championship, they’re fighting for a league title. That’s a pretty big thing on their senior weekend.”
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are averaging 3.4 goals scored while going 5-3-2 in the past 10 games.
“It’s good our team knows we can score goals,” Rohlik said. “That’s a positive but taking care of our D zone has to be No. 1.
“We gave up way too many chances, way too many gifts back in our end. That’s not our style of hockey so we have to get back to the basics in our end. Three goals should be enough for us to win. We just didn’t make that happen.”
The Buckeyes and RedHawks have played close this season. They tied 1-1 (Miami won the shootout) on Dec. 14 before the RedHawks were victorious 3-1 the next night. Both games were in Columbus. On Dec. 28, Miami prevailed 1-0 in the Pittsburgh College Hockey Showcase.
“They’re a good team all around” OSU sophomore forward Tanner Fritz said. “They’ve been dominating this league for quite a few years now. That’s what OSU hockey wants to do. We’re pushing the pace for that. This year and for years to come OSU hockey’s going to be on the map for sure.”
This is the last regular season weekend in the 40-year history of the CCHA before it dissolves. The Buckeyes join the new Big Ten conference next season… Fritz is first in CCHA scoring with 30 points and leads in assists (21). Classmate Ryan Dzingel is third with 27 points (10-17)… Time Warner Cable SportsChannel will televise both games across the state on channel 311/1311 HD. Sports Time Ohio (STO) will broadcast Friday’ game live and show the Saturday game on tape delay at 9 p.m. that night.