Ohio State is another CCHA team in transition, with a coach attempting to rebuild a program that hasn’t lived up to its potential in recent seasons.
“We’re trying to obviously build up what we’ve done the last couple of years, certainly last year,” coach Mark Osiecki said. “We’ll be extremely young again this year, but we’ve got to find a way to go through the phases of learning how to handle some success, handle a little adversity, and at the same point, keep on building on the tradition here and the history of this program.”
The Buckeyes finished tied for eighth place last season, just as they had the year before, which was Osiecki’s first season with OSU. Of the three CCHA teams that will be moving to the Big Ten in 2013-14, Ohio State is the program that undoubtedly feels the most pressure to become more competitive for that high-profile venture and Osiecki is looking for leadership from his team to help move that process along.
“Natural-born leaders aren’t always right there,” Osiecki said, “and right now with a small senior class and a some guys that haven’t had a lot of experience in terms of play, our leadership is something that we have to look forward to.”
So far this season, Osiecki and his staff have yet to name captains for a squad that has 10 total juniors and seniors. Last year, seniors Sean Duddy and Cory Schneider captained the team.
Another senior from a year ago that the Buckeyes will miss is goaltender Cal Heeter, who played 32 games last season. Osiecki said that the Buckeyes depended too much on Heeter.
“He had to almost play a perfect game for us to have a little bit more success,” he said.
There are four goalies on the OSU roster this year. Senior Brady Hjelle was a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth two seasons ago. He saw time in eight games last season with a 2.53 goals against average and .922 save percentage. Jeff Michael is another senior who saw time in one game two seasons ago. Freshmen Peter Megariotis and Collin Olson round out the competition for net time. Megariotis played for the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the NAHL in his previous two seasons (2.68, .911), while Olson spent the past two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (2.70, .901).
“It’s going to be interesting,” Osiecki said. “Obviously, Brady, it’s his second year with us but he’s a senior as a transfer. Last year when he relieved Cal mid-game he was outstanding … but then from the second half of the year when he went in for Cal or we gave him a game, he struggled a little bit. It’s truly going to be a competition.”
Another question mark is scoring. Last season, the Buckeyes averaged 2.46 goals per game, 42nd-best in the nation. “If you look at the one thing that is glaring for our roster is [that we don’t have] one forward that’s a senior,” Osiecki said. “That being said, we like where Chris Crane is at. He’s certainly going to be more consistent as a player. He’s developed into a leadership role as well.”
Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick and Darik Angeli are three sophomores who had promising seasons offensively in 2011-12.
One thing that Osiecki doesn’t worry about, though, is effort.
“Our consistency was there last year, top to bottom,” Osiecki said. “That effort never changed. We never had to raise our voice at practice in the second half of the year.
“The leadership thing and in terms of pure talent — we’re upgrading on both.”
About the Buckeyes
2011-12 overall record: 15-15-5
2011-12 CCHA record: 11-12-5-1 (tie, eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Sixth
Key losses: F Danny Dries, D Sean Duddy, G Cal Heeter
Players to watch: F Chris Crane, F Ryan Dzingel, F Max McCormick
Impact rookie: G Collin Olson
Why the Buckeyes will finish higher than the coaches poll: This team can play a solid, all-around game with some returning talent.
Why the Buckeyes will finish lower than the coaches poll: On the other hand, the Buckeyes showed signs of identity crisis more than once last season, and goaltender Cal Heeter isn’t there to back them up any longer.