Ohio State will participate in its second in-season tournament of this year’s campaign when the Buckeyes head to Las Vegas for the Fortress Invitational this weekend.
The Buckeyes, who won the Ice Breaker to start the season, kicked off the second half of their season by sweeping Colgate at home last weekend.
So, what’s the incentive to participate in these types of tournaments?
According to Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik, the desire to pick up hardware is the same at the start or middle of the season as it is in the postseason.
“Anytime you go in and play in the tournament, I don’t care if it’s the Ice Breaker, Christmas tournament or an end-of-the-year tournament, from the time you’re little to the time you’re done, any time you’re going into a tournament, you want to win the tournament,” he said.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes will face No. 2 Cornell on Friday at T-Mobile Arena. Providence and Army West Point will kick the tournament off beforehand with winners and losers of the first two games playing each other on Saturday.
Having a quick turnaround between playing Friday and not knowing Saturday’s opponent is good practice for the players and staff, according to Rohlik.
“You focus on the first team you play, which we have to with Cornell,” he said. “Depending on what happens, we’ve got to do a quick turnaround as a staff and make sure that we’re prepared. That helps you down the stretch.”
No one is going to confuse the Fortress Invitational or the Ice Breaker with the actual NCAA tournament, but going to a neutral site with three other teams and playing games at different times of the day could be beneficial, especially for younger players.
“You can never have enough experience,” Rohlik said. “Going into a big building like this is exciting and playing the competition that we’re playing. All those things are a positive for every guy in your program.
“When you take a look at the three other teams in this tournament, you’ve got to stop and realize what a test it’s going to be. Any one of these four teams could win this thing and we know that we’ve got to set the tone for the second half. We know we’ve got to go in there and play our best to win the hockey games. With Cornell coming in, they’ve only lost one game all year, [so] we know how difficult it’s going to be.”
Rohlik wasn’t particularly thrilled with how the Buckeyes played against Colgate on Friday, needing a two-goal comeback in the third period to win 3-2. Improvement was made on Saturday when the Buckeyes picked up the 3-0 shutout but he said that an even better performance will be needed against Cornell.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach [Mike] Schafer and what he’s done in his career and what he’s done at that program — it seems they’re in this position every year,” he said. “We know they’re one of the best teams in the country. We know we’ve got to improve from this weekend to next weekend for us to have a chance against Cornell and I think our guys understand what they’re getting into.”
This is the third year for the Fortress Invitational, formerly known as the Ice Vegas Invitational but renamed to match the nickname that T-Mobile Arena has acquired. Rohlik said it is a positive to see college hockey events thriving in nontraditional places like Las Vegas.
“It speaks volumes of the game and that’s exactly why we’re going out there,” he said. “We’d love to see college hockey grow. You’ve seen it coast to coast, and the more we can go out and represent our brand and our game, hopefully, the more other schools are looking at it and trying to add Division I college hockey programs.”
Notre Dame renews rivalry with Western Michigan
For the third time this season, Notre Dame will tangle with a former CCHA rival. The Irish play a home-and-home series with Western Michigan this weekend.
The two teams last met in the 2015-16 season when Notre Dame went 2-0-1 against the Broncos.
The Irish ended a six-game losing streak when they blanked Penn State 3-0 to close out the first half of the season. Goaltender Cale Morris had a 37-save shutout in the game. With the start to his senior season being delayed by an injury, Morris hasn’t been able to put up the type of numbers that Notre Dame fans are used to seeing so far. The netminder has a 6-6-2 record, a 2.85 GAA and a .903 save percentage.
This’ll be the final nonconference series of the season for Notre Dame.