“I’m looking forward to this season after such a disappointing season last year,” says John Markell. “It’s definitely a rebuilding year for us, one in which you might see 10 freshmen on the ice.”
Rebuilding? Ohio State’s season could be further subtitled, “Oh, How the Mighty with the New Rink Have Fallen.”
It was just three seasons ago that the Buckeyes advanced to the Frozen Four, two seasons when OSU was last received an NCAA tourney bid.
Last year, the Buckeyes missed the CCHA playoffs for the first time since 1982–the year some of this season’s freshmen were born.
But Markell is counting on those freshmen to help turn around this young squad, and put behind the team for good the slow starts that stymie this club nearly every year. After all, the Buckeyes went 7-7-2 in the second half of last season, a better record during that stretch than at least one team that made the playoffs posted.
Well, it’s hard to say who’s starring for Ohio State, now that Eric Meloche and Ray Aho are gone.
— Ohio State head coach John Markell
Certainly, Jean-Francois Dufour (13-22–35) would be a star on nearly any team. In spite of the Bucks’ 11th-place finish, Dufour finished 9th in league scoring. Beyond that, there are few marquee names on this Ohio State squad.
“We’re looking for the senior leadership from Andre Signoretti and Jean-Francois Dufour, looking for kind of an up year for Jason Crain [after an injury], and we’re looking for some goal scoring from Nick Ganga,” says Markell. “Basically we’re looking for a core of hockey players coming back to take this hockey team back to the playoffs.”
Signoretti (2-11–13) and Dufour, unanimous picks to co-captain the team, comprise two-thirds of Ohio State’s senior class. Jaisen Freeman (1-8–9) is the other third.
The Buckeyes are certainly looking for big things from a number of rookies, including forwards R.J. Umberger and Scott May, defenseman Doug Andress, and goaltender Mike Betz.
Umberger led his U.S. Developmental Program teams in scoring the past two seasons, posting 35 goals and 39 assists in 73 games last season. Markell likens May to former Buckeye Chris Richards. May had 42 goals and 42 assists in 54 games for the South Surrey Eagles of the BCHL last season.
Andress was named the CJHL Defenseman of the Year for the Brockville Braves last season, tallying 21 goals and 51 assists in 53 games. Betz had a .903 save percentage for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL last season.
Defending the Tribe
The Buckeye blueline did Aho few favors last season. The senior goalie made 997 saves in overall play, third behind the amazing Jayme Platt and the beleaguered Jeff Reynaert.
The team finished a dismal -117 collectively in conference play.
In addition to Signoretti, Freeman, and Crain (2-9–11, -6), the Buckeyes also return Pete Broccoli (0-3–3, -5), and Scott Titus and Eric Skaug–but neither Titus or Skaug right away. Titus is waiting to be cleared from offseason surgery; Skaug sat out all of last season and will miss the first eight games of this one because of prior Major Junior experience.
Throw Out A Lifeline, Now
The Buckeyes can only improve in just about every category.
Ohio State was dead-last offensively in conference play last year, averaging 2.00 goals per game. Defensively, the Bucks fared little better, giving up an average of 3.39 goals each contest for 9th in the league.
The OSU power play was, not surprisingly, unimpressive, converting at 15.9%, and the penalty kill was abysmal, effective 78.9% of the time–a bad, bad thing for a team that led the league in the box, averaging 27.07 minutes per game.
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Ohio State loves to play the role of the underdog. And this year, the Buckeyes may have reason to be cautiously optimistic.
Is That Your Final Answer?
From new faces to new attitudes, John Markell thinks that fans will see a much different Buckeye team this season.
“I think there’s no doubt that the dedication is there, from what I see of the guys I know who stayed this summer, which is just about everybody,” says Markell. “Even some of the young guys [the rookies] were in here. “I think there’s a rededication to building their own tradition here. Really, that starts at the top. I see that in Signoretti, Dufour, and Freeman, three of the hardest-working guys. It’s nice when it’s your upperclassmen trying to show your team how to win.
“Right now, we’ve got a bunch of guys…that unless the program does well they probably won’t do well. But I really truly think there’s a sour taste in their mouths from what they did last year. They’re not happy with happened. Going from such a high to such a low is a tough position to put themselves into and luckily three or four of them have taken it upon them to make sure that it won’t happen again.”
To summarize, Markell says, “We’ve got a bunch of guys who will be playing for the crest on their sweaters.”
And if you think that’s not reason enough to believe the world as we know it is about to end, consider this: Ganga, who spent 112 minutes in the penalty box last year, says he won’t earn more than 50 minutes this season, “guaranteed.”
I don’t know about you, but I think I’m heading for church.