Something interesting happened in Detroit in March of this year. Someone, somehow, lit a fire in the collective bellies of the Ohio State Buckeyes, and they played up to their potential — finally.
Given that OSU graduated the guys responsible for six of the 14 goals the Bucks scored in the Super Six en route to their first CCHA postseason title since 1972 — and just their second, ever — the 2004-05 season is covered with question marks.
“We have the tremendous task of replacing a great and productive senior class,” says head coach John Markell. That class included the Buckeyes top four scorers in 2003-04: defenseman Doug Andress (1-15-16), and forwards Paul Caponigri (9-16-25), Scott May (11-15-26), and Dave Steckel (8-9-17).
“Not only did these guys score goals for us,” says Markell, “but they did a big job for us defensively.”
Like Miami and Notre Dame, Ohio State will have to rely on input from letter-winners in all classes and highly touted recruits to overcome the loss of a large, talented senior class and avoid getting bitten by the inconsistency bug.
It’s a group effort in Columbus, from the goal out. “We have to replace our everyday goaltender, Mike Betz, but we feel comfortable with Dave Caruso,” says Markell.
After a fast start, Betz (2.40 GAA, .912 SV%) had a minor meltdown midseason and Caruso (2.56 GAA, .904) saw more and more playing time down the stretch. During the first game of the Super Six, Caruso replaced Betz in net and the Buckeyes — buoyed by his confident-bordering-on-cocky performance — went on to win the tourney with overtime wins against Notre Dame and Miami, and an improbable 4-2 title win over Michigan.
Also contributing to the overall effort in the second half of the season forwards sophomore Andrew Schembri (10-9-19), junior Rod Pelley (7-7-14), and senior J.B. Bittner (9-2-11).
The Buckeye blueline returns everyone but Andress, and everyone except for junior Nate Guenin (2-9-11) is fairly unknown.
This is a team that could be under the radar this season, in spite of its Mason Cup.
Junior Dan Knapp (11-13-24) returns healthy this season, something unusual for Knapp’s OSU career. If Knapp remains healthy, he’s a legitimate candidate: a natural goal-scorer, fast and crafty, tough.
Red or Blue?
The problem for OSU last season — in spite of all the talent up front — was scoring. That will be the challenge again this year. The Buckeyes have their share of talent up front, but the tendency to grip the stick sometimes overcomes OSU, so the defense has to play sharper and smarter, something that Markell counts on this year.
“I think one of the strengths of our team will be defense and goaltending,” says Markell. In addition to Caruso, in whom the entire Buckeye coaching staff has faith, OSU welcomes freshman Ian Keserich, a big netminder from Parma, Ohio, who is reminiscent of Jeff Maund in net.
In fact, the Buckeyes welcome three Ohio natives to Columbus this season, something that hasn’t happened in living memory. One of those is forward Tom Fritsche from the U.S. Under-18 Team, arguably one of the best recruits in the conference. The other is forward John Dingle. All three are from the Cleveland area.
The schedule may help the Buckeyes in a small way. OSU is clustered with Miami every year, and those games are usually a tossup, but Ferris State and Western Michigan are also in this cluster, two teams against which Markell has had success. It doesn’t hurt that Michigan comes to the Schott, either.
(It doesn’t hurt the Buckeyes that Dwight Helminen is no longer playing with the Wolverines, either.)
Markell is excited about the upcoming season and the schedule, especially the Ohio Hockey Classic, a new holiday tournament to be hosted by OSU — and perhaps the only hockey to be played in Nationwide Arena this season — and the Frozen Four at the Schott.
“Hosting the Frozen Four is a tremendous opportunity to promote college hockey,” says Markell. “With the [NHL] Blue Jackets being in the lockout situation, we’ll try to lure fans into our building.”
What OSU needs to lure is pucks — into opponents’ nets. And maintaining the current excellent locker room chemistry can’t hurt.