USCHO GAME OF THE WEEK: Ohio State hosts Penn State this weekend in crucial Big Ten series

JAN 26, 2018: Tanner Laczynski (OSU - 9)  The #6 Ohio State Buckeyes shut out the #20 Michigan Wolverines 4-0 at Value City Arena in Columbus, OH. (Rachel Lewis - USCHO) (Rachel Lewis/©Rachel Lewis)
Tanner Laczynski leads Ohio State in scoring this season with seven goals and 26 points in 28 games for the Buckeyes (photo: Rachel Lewis).

When Ohio State dropped three straight games in November, the Buckeyes responded by going 6-0-1 in the next seven games.

The Buckeyes defeated Michigan 4-1 on Saturday to snap their second three-game losing streak of the season. A similar run to November could help solidify their spot atop the Big Ten standings.

“We’ve been thinking the exact same thing — we’ve done it before and we know that we can go on a hot streak again here,” OSU sophomore forward Gustaf Westlund said. “Just focusing on the next game is always important.”

The Buckeyes, who have six games remaining in the regular season, host Penn State this weekend. Ohio State and the Nittany Lions are tied with 29 Big Ten points, but Minnesota and Michigan State are only one point behind with two games in hand.

According to Westlund, the key to success down the stretch is to live in the moment and not dwell on past results.

“My dad played a lot of tennis growing up and he always told me that if you lose a point, you’ve got to have a short memory,” he said. “You’ve got to focus on the next point. I kind of have that mentality and I know that from playing with other guys on our team, and Coach (Steve) Rohlik, that they have that mentality.

“You’ve got to focus on the next game, we were on a three-game losing streak but after each loss we were always focusing ahead. If you do that, you’re just going to remember the good things about winning.”

Westlund leads the Buckeyes with 12 goals so far this season. He’s added another dozen assists and has already surpassed the number of games played during his injury-plagued freshman campaign.

“It’s all about coming back to something that you’re familiar with and more comfortable with,” Westlund said about this season compared to last season. “This place has really taken care of me. I love the guys, I love staff, I love everyone that’s involved with the Ohio State men’s hockey team and it’s all about being comfortable, I believe.

“Coming back to something that you’re familiar with, you work with these guys that are just as hard-working and determined as you are, and good things happen out of that.”

The Stockholm, Sweden, native credited his support system for helping him through his tough freshman season.

“That’s the great thing about being at Ohio State — everyone takes care of you,” he said. “That was certainly the case with me. Everyone took care of me even though I had some ups and down regarding that injury. It’s a bit of a mental game when you get hurt, [but] you’ve got to just focus on the positive side of things and be fortunate that you are at a place where people take care of you when you get hurt.

“That’s how I looked at the situation, and I came back stronger than ever.”

Throughout much of his time at Ohio State, Westlund has centered a line with senior Carson Meyer as his right winger. The two have developed a strong bond both on the ice and off.

“Carson has really been one of the guys that really took care of me when I first came in,” he said. “It just starts out with us being really good friends off the ice and it certainly translates to on the ice. We kind of have similar playing styles, playing with speed and we both have a certain type of vision. We know where each one of us is going to be and play up to each other’s speed.”

Even with a strong friendship, the two players aren’t afraid call each other out.

“We’re always honest to each other, too,” Westlund said. “If there’s a play that I made or a play that Carson should have made, we tell each other. We try to keep each other accountable. That’s really why it’s been sticking together.”

Ohio State and the Nittany Lions split two one-goal games earlier this season at Penn State. The Buckeyes gave up five goals in the loss and held PSU to three in their win. A strong defensive effort against the high-flying team from State College will be needed this weekend.

Game times are Friday at 7 p.m. EST and Saturday at 5 p.m. from Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

“They’re a very offensive team that plays with a lot of speed,” Westlund said. “We just need to be aware of that. We do our video and we do our homework, [but] I don’t want to disclose too many details about what we’re going to do. We’ve just got to make sure we counteract their offensiveness. I believe they have plenty of guys that are above 20 points, they’re an offensive threat, and you’ve got make sure that you don’t give them too many opportunities.”

After playing eight of the last 10 games on the road, OSU gets four of its last six, including this weekend, at home.

“Winning or losing, at home you’re always going to have someone that supports you no matter how it goes,” Westlund said. “This home series is huge for us and it’s definitely going to be exciting.”