Columbus, Ohio, may be in for a treat this fall. There just may be a team — or two — playing good hockey in Cow-lumbus.
Heresy, you say? Blasphemy, you cry? No, really, it could happen. Honest.
In the CCHA’s only NHL-Division I college hockey city, both the Blue Jackets and the Buckeyes could be competitive, engaging hockey teams this year. And it has nothing to do with an alignment of planets.
It does, however, have something to do with that elusive little item called chemistry.
You’ve Got To Have Faith
In a very smart move, the Columbus Blue Jackets held their preseason training camp on Prince Edward Island, home of Jackets’ GM Doug McLean. What this did, according to veterans on the squad, was create a tight team atmosphere, something missing in the first two seasons of the franchise’s existence.
The result? The ‘Jackets are 5-2-0 so far in preseason.
Just a few miles down the road, there is a similar spirit of camaraderie in the OSU Ice Arena. (Of course, it will be a while before the sheet is installed at the Schott.) With a junior class that includes two first-round draft picks and a more-than-capable goaltender, John Markell is optimistic — cautiously — about his team’s chances this season.
“We’re looking to rebound from a seventh-place finish last year,” said Markell. “We did, however, end on a good note. I thought through the playoffs we developed and matured within our team.
“That carried itself over to our summer and spring workouts. The focus right now is improving ourselves within the CCHA and playing in the upper echelon. I think our kids are very, very hungry to prove that.”
Anyone who saw the Buckeyes play in postseason last year had to wonder why OSU didn’t play that way all season long. That, of course, is the big question.
“Offensively, we’re looking to add quite a few more goals,” said Markell. There’s no reason in the universe that the Buckeyes cannot put the puck in the net, with the likes of R.J. Umberger and the rest of that junior class.
“I thought in a lot of situations last year, we hurt ourselves; we played good team defense, had good goaltending, but were unable to put the puck in the net. We’re looking to juniors R.J. Umberger, Scotty May, Paul Caponigri, Dave Steckel, and Daymen Bencharski to lead us in the department. As juniors, they should have a much better grasp of what it takes to score in the CCHA.”
Get Defensive, If It Helps
OSU returns the corps of its team, including the defense — minus graduated captain Jason Crain and sophomore Thomas Walsh (knee). Fifth-year senior Scott Titus has been selected this year’s captain, and he has leadership ability in spades; Titus finished his first undergraduate degree last spring, and is now working on his second.
The leadership may be the one thing that OSU needs even more than more goals this season.
“Defensively, we’re looking at.Scott Titus, along with seniors Eric Skaug and Peter Broccoli, to provide us with leadership,” said Markell. “We’re also looking to junior Doug Andress to return to his offensive abilities.”
Add talented rookie Nate Guenin to the defensive mix, and if the blue line solidifies — and if the offense finds the net, and if Mike Betz is again solid between the pipes — Ohio State may finally be the contender they should have been years ago.
Of Course, Everything Is A Theory
It’s a Big 10 school, with a Big 10 budget, a Big 10 facility. There’s a growing fanbase in a hockey-knowledgeable town. And the Buckeyes lost just three players to graduation last year.
So OSU should finish near the top of the CCHA, right? Right?
There’s been much grousing among Buckeye fans in Columbus regarding the coaching staff. Here’s a clue: the coaches aren’t the ones who need to bring their hearts to the ice, game in and game out. They already do.
The success of this Buckeye team depends on the OSU players and that chemistry that eluded the team for so long. By the looks of things, these Buckeyes may indeed be ready to “play for the crest on their sweaters,” as Markell is fond of saying.
Oh, and speaking of sweaters, OSU finally has a gray one, as in “Scarlet and Gray.”
Perhaps someone is listening on Woody Hayes Drive after all.
Every Buckeye, meditate on this one single word: