The blade and the puck
The blade and the puck and R.J. Umberger
The Buckeyes finished the 2000-01 season with a gritty, three-game, first-round CCHA playoff series against Nebraska-Omaha, losing by the width of two pucks in the very hostile Omaha Civic Center. The memory of those losses — games many Buckeye players still refer to as “fun” — is what motivates the squad this year.
“We did a really good job in the series,” says John Markell. “I expect that strong play to carry over into this season.”
One of three teams that fielded 10 freshmen last season, Ohio State returns with a veteran squad that’s led offensively by the one-two punch of Dave Steckel (17 goals-18 assists-35 points) and CCHA Rookie of the Year and the team’s leading scorer, R.J. Umberger (14-23-37). Both players were first-round 2001 NHL Entry Draft picks.
Two other sophomores, Paul Caponigri and Scott May, are a big part of the offensive mix, as are Miguel Lafleche, Mike McCormick, and Luke Pavlas. Caponigri is truly one of the league’s underrated players, while Lafleche is one of the steadiest.
McCormick, a speed demon with a soft touch with the puck, is due for a break-out year.
The Good Men Aren’t Hard to Find
The experienced blue line is marshaled by senior and captain Jason Crain, a 1999 third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings. Juniors Pete Broccoli and Eric Skaug are the true blue-collar workmen of the defensive corps, while sophomore Doug Andress is a good two-way player.
Scott Titus, who was redshirted as a junior last year while recovering from arm surgery, is expected to return and contribute a big, physical presence to the defense, as well as smarts in his crease.
Mike Betz (.892 SV%, 2.97 GAA) was a pleasant surprise in net last season, improving as the year wore on and finishing with a truly major-league performance in Omaha during the CCHA playoffs. He’ll be backed by the now-healthy Peter Wishloff, and Kelly Holowaty.
Look Homeward, Buckeyes
Ohio State begins with what appears to be a sweet schedule, playing at home or straying no further than Bowling Green until mid-December. Unfortunately, the Schottenstein Center isn’t the best barn during the first half of the season when the hockey Buckeyes compete with their gridiron counterparts for fans — and when the stands do fill, the place is oddly quiet. There’s a pep band, but no student section.
The Buckeyes were 7-9-0 at home last season, and 10-7-2 away.
Still, with the maturity of this year’s squad, should fans show up for home games, they’ll be treated to competitive hockey, provided the Buckeyes can focus on the task at hand.
“We had so many young hockey players last season,” says Markell. “Half our team is sophomores now. They have a year of experience under their belts.”
Aside from the deadened home arena, another potential obstacle for the Buckeyes is their tough cluster with Michigan State, Miami, and Ferris State. “There isn’t an easy cluster in this league and ours is very competitive this season,” says Markell. “You can’t take any cluster for granted — certainly not the one we’re in. Miami is going to come back with a good team, Michigan State is always good and I expect Ferris State to be very competitive this year.”
Markell has high hopes for his squad, and he may have good reason. “I expect us to compete for one of the top four spots in the CCHA.”