Big Ten play opens this weekend; Buckeyes readying for Minnesota

Ohio State's Steve Rohlik directs from the bench. (Jamie Sabau)
Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik says his Buckeyes are ‘growing up and maturing a little bit’ (photo: Jamie Sabau).

Ohio State sophomore forward Mason Jobst said the team was “disappointed” after its game against Connecticut on Nov. 12.

OSU junior forward Matthew Weis added “it’s definitely a sour taste in your mouth.”

The Buckeyes didn’t lose that game, but hearing disappointment like that from the players after the team’s fourth tie of the season was music to head coach Steve Rohlik’s ears.

“We felt that night that we probably played one of our best games of the year and ended up coming out of there with the tie,” he said. “As a coach, you certainly want to hear those things from your guys. You want to expect to go into games to win games instead of just trying to stay close. To hear that coming out of your locker room, maybe we’re growing up and maturing a little bit.”

Being close but coming with the loss was the story of Ohio State’s season last year. This season, the Buckeyes have elevated their play, but the four ties are somewhat of a blemish on a great start to the season.

“When you’re in a lot of tight games, which a lot of college hockey is, it comes down to the little things,” Rohlik said. “Those are details and things that you work on Monday through Thursday.”

Rohlik implied that it was impossible to preach about the finer aspects of the game too often.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to keep pounding it into these guys, that you can’t just show up on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “It comes down to special teams; a four-on-four, four-on-three, power play, shorthanded, sometimes it comes down to that little thing in games and those are the things that make the difference.”

As Big Ten play opens up this weekend, not settling a game in regulation or overtime means leaving conference points on the table. It also means that a shootout can be the difference between one and two points after the overtime period. Rohlik said that it’s easy to “glaze over” shootouts during practice, but said that it’s important to make time to practice them.

“We sprinkle it in here and there, to be honest with you,” he said. “You’ve just got to make it part of your week. It comes down to a point could make a huge difference at the end of the year.”

This weekend, the Buckeyes open up Big Ten play at Minnesota. Ohio State went 0-5 against the Gophers last season. Four of those wins were by one goal and three of the contests went to overtime.

“They remember,” Rohlik said of this year’s team concerning last year’s results against Minnesota. “We’ve got a lot of respect for that program. Certainly we got a little sour taste and we want to go in there compete.”

For the Buckeyes to compete this weekend, they will need to clean up a penalty kill that only has a success rate of 73.3 percent this season.

The easiest way to solve the penalty kill issues is simple.

“First and foremost, don’t take penalties,” Rohlik said. “That would be the best penalty kill. Everything is part of the system and it’s just all the little details of it. Certainly we’ve got to get better, certainly it’s been a focus.

“Now all of a sudden you’re staring at one of the best power plays in the country on a big sheet,” he added of the Gophers’ sixth-ranked power play. “If we can get better in that area it certainly helps our chances.”

Ohio State has been eager to score the first goal of the game this season, and doing so would be even more important on the road this weekend.

“That’s kind of been our M.O. a little bit, going out there and trying to score that first goal,” Rohlik said. “We’ve talked about it a lot and certainly done it a lot. Anytime you can put the first goal on the board, you’re obviously putting more pressure on the other team, they certainly have got to score more than one goal to win.”

Michigan State tastes success against North Dakota

After dropping their first four games of the season the Spartans are 4-2-1 in their last seven games.

Last weekend, Michigan State went into Ralph Engelstad Arena and came back with a win and a tie.

The Spartans only got 21 shots on goal during Friday’s game, but came away with a 4-3 victory. On Saturday they put 19 shots on target and tied the Fighting Hawks 2-2.

MSU coach Tom Anastos said that team defense was the most impressive part of the weekend.

“I thought we defended pretty well overall, I really did,” he said. “It’s a tough place to play on the road there. We limited their quality scoring chances and that’s hard to do against a good team like that. We had a good night on special teams, the Friday night game in particular. Even the Saturday night (game), we gave up a power play goal but we scored shorthanded goal.”

Michigan State is a young team — its roster features 10 freshmen and five sophomores — but the scoring so far this season has been spread evenly between the upper and underclassmen.
We needed that to take place,” Anastos said. “We’re seeing guys, players like Joe Cox, Thomas Ebbing, be consistent performers like they have been in the past. We were hopeful that guys like Villiam Haag, Rhett Holland, Carson Gatt and JT Stenglein would raise their level of game and consistency.”

Michigan State also had a huge question mark in goal heading into the season with the departure of Jake Hildebrand. Junior Ed Minney started both games against North Dakota and had 30 saves on Friday and 32 on Saturday.

“Playing with a level of consistency is important, consecutive games was important,” Anastos said of Minney. “The other thing, being in that environment and playing against a real good team that was coming off of two shutouts on the road was important for him, and I thought he played with a lot of poise. He’s trying to grow into a role with our team and take over for a guy that played with a lot of consistency over a four-year period. He’s finding himself and finding where he feels he fits.”

Michigan State will play an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team on Sunday. Anastos said he’d ideally like to not be able to tell the difference in the team’s play against North Dakota and in the exhibition game.

“You go and play on the road against North Dakota, the defending national champ, and now you’re playing an exhibition game that doesn’t have the same value to it,” he said. “But yet you’ve got to learn to place a similar value on it, perform in a similar way, compete in a similar manner and approach it in a similar way. That’s part of the maturation process that we have to go through. That will be the next challenge.”

Three Stars of the Week

First star — Michigan State freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg: Rosburg had two goals and an assist last weekend as the Spartans picked up a win and tie at North Dakota. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

Second star — Minnesota senior forward Vinni Lettieri: The Excelsior, Minn., native scored the game-winning goal in Minnesota’s 4-2 victory over Boston College on Sunday. He had two goals and two assists on the weekend for Minnesota. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

Third star — Wisconsin senior forward Grant Besse: Besse netted the game-winning goal in Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over Colorado College last weekend. He added another goal and two assists on Saturday when the Badgers fell to Denver. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

B1G in the poll

No. 7 Penn State leads the Big Ten pack, followed by No. 10 Ohio State and No. 11 Minnesota. Michigan is clinging to the final 20th slot in the poll and Wisconsin received two votes.

My ballot
1. Minnesota-Duluth
2. Denver
3. Massachusetts-Lowell
4. Quinnipiac
5. Boston College
6. Boston University
7. North Dakota
8. Penn State
9. Harvard
10. Ohio State
11. Minnesota
12. Minnesota State
13. Notre Dame
14. Bemidji State
15. St. Cloud State
16. Michigan
17. Union
18. Western Michigan
19. St. Lawrence
20. Vermont

This week’s matchups

Michigan at Penn State (Thursday and Friday, Pegula Ice Arena)

Ohio State at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)

Wisconsin vs. Omaha (Friday and Saturday, Kohl Center)

Michigan State vs. U.S. Under-18 Team (exhibition) (Sunday, Munn Ice Arena)