Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik struggled to remember the Buckeyes’ last home game during an interview this week.
“We haven’t played in our building in, I don’t know what it’s been, a month and a half?” he said. Actually, the Buckeyes will take the ice in front of their faithful for the first time since they swept Canisius in the middle of November when they host the front end of a home-and-home series with Michigan on Friday.
“I’m hoping we have a good crowd that comes out and certainly they’re feeling the same thing on the other end,” Rohlik said.
The two victories over the Golden Griffins in mid-November extended Ohio State’s winning streak at the time to four games. Said winning streak broke a seven-game losing streak that started the season. The Buckeyes went on to lose their next four games after Canisius, but they have gone 3-0-1 in their last four games and look like they might have regained their form.
Ohio State took four of a possible six conference points from Wisconsin last weekend. They had an opportunity to sweep, but Grant Besse tied Saturday’s game in the third period and Wisconsin won the shootout.
“When you go on the road, now that we’re getting into league games, every point is such a big point,” Rohlik said. “To go up there and learn to win on the road — which we’ve done a little bit in the second half — is an important thing.
“We’re OK with getting four [points],” he said. “We’re just disappointed we didn’t get six, but it shows that we can go on the road and win hockey games and get points.”
The Wisconsin series came after the Buckeyes’ most impressive two-game performance of the season, when they won the Florida College Hockey Classic. Ohio State came from behind defeated Boston College 3-2 in the tournament semifinals.
“We were down 2-zip before four minutes into the game, and then they go on a five-minute power play,” Rohlik said of the game against BC. “Once we hung in there and killed off a big five-minute major and started to chip away, to come back and beat a great hockey team like that 3-2 down there was a huge confidence boost for our group.”
The Buckeyes followed up the win over Boston College with an 8-0 victory over Cornell.
So how did the team engineer a mid-season turnaround in the midst of an eight-game road trip?
“It’s a little bit of everything, to be honest with you,” Rohlik said. “No. 1, as any coach will say, great goaltending will make you look like a good coach. We certainly have had very good goaltending, which gives us confidence. You’ve certainly seen that throughout the team.”
Goaltender Christian Frey has two shutouts in his past three starts and owns a 2.34 GAA and .925 save percentage.
Ohio State’s fortunes in the second half of the season will depend on whether the team figures out how to win the close game. Five of the Buckeyes’ 12 losses have been by one goal and only one has been by more than two.
“The biggest thing is learning how to win the close games,” Rohlik said. “We lost a bunch of close games in the first half. Being in those close games and learning how to win them is the important thing.”
Rohlik pointed to the two overtime losses at Minnesota in December as the type of games that he would like to see his team come away from with points.
“We were really disappointed — those were two games that we felt could have gone either way,” he said. “To be up 2-0 against Minnesota at their place on Friday night, you have to find a way to come away and win that hockey game. To be in overtime both nights up there and to come away with no points was certainly something that our guys, we talked about before break that those were the type of games that we wanted to come away and we have to have confidence that we can win those games. We didn’t feel good about just being close.”
This weekend, the Buckeyes will play a home-and-home series with Michigan, which scored 15 goals against Michigan State last weekend. Rohlik said that they key to slowing the Wolverines down was being disciplined in all facets of the game.
“With the way we play, our system and staying out of the penalty box, we want to make them earn everything,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to give them layups by any means. It’s going to be a team effort. We know who they are, we know what they can do, but we’re certainly going to go out there and have the same expectations on our end.”
Michigan’s offense has looked unstoppable at times, although teams like Robert Morris and Dartmouth have found ways to shut the Wolverines out. The Wolverines have also been prone to giving up some goals this season, but Rohlik doesn’t want his guys focusing on that.
“For us, we’ve talked a lot about it, everything starts in your defensive end,” he said. “You have to play defensively as a team and if you play good defensively that’ll lead to good offense. We are just going to have to capitalize on our opportunities, but we have to go into the game and we have to expect to play good in our own end.”
Badgers look to continue streak at Penn State
It may be a bit of a reach in terms of things on which a team can hang its hat, but Wisconsin has found a way to pick up points in each of its three Big Ten series so far. The Badgers are 1-3-2 in their first six conference games so far; they went 0-5-1 in their first six last year.
Wisconsin has shown signs that it may be close to getting over the hump, but its six ties this season show that there’s still room for work.
“It would be in two areas. It would be in our ability to play in our own defensive zone, and the way we come into our defensive zone,” Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves said during his weekly news conference. “That doesn’t change. That’s the same in the National Hockey League level, college, minor, pro. It’s your ability to play without the puck in those two areas.”
This weekend, the Badgers will travel to Happy Valley to play a team that’s 3-1 in its conference games so far, Penn State.
Three stars of the week
First star — Michigan junior forward JT Compher: Compher tallied two goals and five assists in Michigan’s weekend drubbing of Michigan State. He had a career-high five points (two goals and three assists) on Friday and added a pair of assists on Saturday.
Second star — Michigan freshman forward Kyle Connor: Connor gave Compher a run for his money and racked up six points last weekend. He also had a career-best five points (two goals and three assists) on Friday night and tacked on another goal during Saturday’s game.
Third star — Wisconsin freshman forward Luke Kunin: Kunin became the first freshman since 2007 to record four points in a game for Wisconsin. He recorded one goal and three assists for the Badgers when they tied Ohio State 4-4 on Saturday and picked up extra points in the shootout.
B1G in the poll
Two teams featured in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s poll. Michigan moved up two spots to No. 6 and Penn State dropped one spot to No. 15. Minnesota received votes in the poll.
1. North Dakota
3. St. Cloud State
5. Boston College
11. Boston University
13. Penn State
14. Notre Dame
15. St. Lawrence
17. Bowling Green
18. Minnesota State
20. Michigan Tech
This week’s matchups
Michigan vs. Ohio State (Friday at Value City Arena, Sunday at Yost Ice Arena)
Michigan State at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)
Wisconsin at Penn State (Friday and Saturday, Pegula Ice Arena)