If you haven't been paying attention to Ohio State hockey lately, now would be a great time to start. The Buckeyes might have underwhelmed a little last season, but with a new coach, and more importantly, a new conference and some shiny new TV opportunities on deck, the Buckeyes could be entering a new and exciting era for the sport. Gone are the trips to Alaska. Bring on Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This year's Buckeye squad will be coached by Steve Rohlik, the program's ninth head coach in the school's history. Steve joined the Buckeyes staff in 2010 after a 10 year stint with the Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth as an assistant. While at UMD, Rohlik, helped build the Bulldogs program to a contending program and was a big part of putting together their first ever national championship team. As a player, Rohlik went to the University of Wisconsin where he wore the "C" on his chest his final two seasons at Wisconsin and aided the Badgers in reaching a 36-9-1 record as well as winning national title. If anything, Rohlik is bringing some championship experience and credibility to the program.
Rohlik is coming in at an exciting time, with the formation of the new Big Ten Hockey Conference, and with it, the shiny new TV deal with the Big Ten Network. When asked about the network's potential for the league and for Ohio State, Rohlik added:
At OSU when you think of Ohio State athletics you think Big Ten and I think the hockey program there, we are just scratching the surface. So I really think it is going to affect our program, maybe more than any other.
The Buckeyes won't be content with just being on TV more often and getting more games against Wisconsin and Minnesota. They want to be successful against that elite competition, and if they're going to get there, they have a lot of question marks to answer.
Replacing an All-American between the pipes
To go along with the new man behind the bench, the Buckeyes hockey team is going to have a new one between the pipes. Ohio State must replace CCHA Goaltender of the Year and AHCA/CCM First Team All-American Brady Hjelle. Hjelle, who played two season for the Buckeyes after transferring from UMD, ranks second in career goals against and first in save percentage. Collin Olson out of Apple Valley, Minnesota, should slide into the starting goaltender position for the Buckeyes as he is the lone returner who saw action last season. As a freshman, Olson appeared in nine games for the Bucks, making seven starts and posting a .901 save percentage. In his first career start versus Minnesota Duluth, Olson captured his first win allowing just two goals on 28 shots.
Who is going to score the puck for the Buckeyes?
There are two Buckeyes who definitely know how to "light the lamp" in Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick. Dzingel, who is entering his third season with the Scarlet and Gray, was named to the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch List by the coaches. Last season, Dzingel led all the Buckeyes with 16 goals and a total of 38 points. He was also captain for the final 12 games last year for Ohio State, and this season was voted by his teammates to be an alternate captain for the Buckeyes. OSU is going to need to lean on him for points this season as they will be playing teams like Minnesota and Wisconsin who are both more than capable of scoring goals themselves, and with the Bucks breaking in a new goalie.
The other Buckeye they'll need to step up in the offensive zone is junior Max McCormick. Like Dzingel, McCormick was also named to the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch List by the coaches. As a sophomore, McCormick really stepped up and stayed healthy for the Buckeyes playing in all forty games and tallying 31 points. Out of those 31 points, which was good enough for third best on the team, 15 of those came by him finding the back of the net.
In addition to the junior duo, the Buckeyes also return four more of their top eight scorers from last year's team. Junior Tanner Fritz will be back and will be one of the Buckeyes' alternate captains this season as well. Fritz is part of a talented junior class for the Buckeyes and ranked second on the team in points with 37 and led the team with 26 assist. With such a talented junior class of forwards, senior Alex Szczechura is a guy that flies somewhat under the radar. Last season he scored a breakout 12 goals for the Buckeyes, up from his years past when he tallied seven.
Who are the top defensemen?
The leader for the Bucks in the defensive zone will have to be senior captain Curtis Gedig. With being the only senior among the blueliners, and your All-American goalie gone, Gedig is going to need to have a huge season in the defensive zone. Last year, as a junior, he blocked 53 shots which ranked him third on the team and scored 15 points which ranked him second for a defensemen.
When you are looking for a true defensemen who is willing to do the dirty work for the Buckeyes you need to look no further than Justin DaSilva. Justin, who stands 6-6, is a true monster when it comes to blocking shots. DaSilva blocked a team high 73 shots which ranked him at number seven for all of college hockey. The one thing Rohlik, could be looking for in his defensemen this year is helping out in the offensive zone where he only had three points in forty games.When he isn't stopping shots, he's hitting the books, as DaSilva is an Academic All-Big Ten choice.
The last key defensemen is Craig Dalrymple out of Kippen, Ontario. Craig came to Ohio State after playing two season with the Powell River Kings in the BCHL. Craig made an instant impact as he was the only freshman to start all forty games, and led all freshman and defensemen in scoring with 17 points. Not only was the rookie a force on the blueline for the Buckeyes but he also blocked 48 shots in the defensive zone. After his standout season as a rookie, he was voted upon by his teammates as the Rookie of the Year for 2013.
What about the newcomers?
With the coaching change at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had two 2014 commits decide Columbus was not right for them in defensemen Jack Dougherty and forward Tyler Sheehy. Luckily for Steve Rohlik and the coaching staff the Buckeyes do still have some playmakers coming in. First of the freshman is David Gust, who played for the Fargo Force the past two seasons scoring 49 points. One of the best gets for the Buckeyes was Nick Schilkey who played last season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. During his his final season with the Gamblers, Schilkey, finished with 32 goals and a total 71 points, ranking him sixth in the USHL for goal scored and seventh overall for points. To go along with the two the Buckeyes will also be bringing in Matt Tomkins, Logan Davis, Drew Brevig and Josh Healey, who may also provide a spark.
Big non-conference games
Don't look now but the number two team in the country in Miami (OH) is coming to Columbus next Friday to open a home and home with the Buckeyes. Last year the RedHawks once again made the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Midwest Regional finals losing to St. Cloud State. Another huge non-con match for the Bucks will be UMD. The Bulldogs are now three years removed from winning the National Title and coming off a below average season finishing 14-19-5. The Bulldogs bring back some of there big scores in Austin Farley and Tony Cameranesi and sophomore goalie Matt McNeely. We'll hit more detailed series previews when these matchups get closer.
Where will the Buckeyes finish?
With the depth in the Big Ten, and with the Buckeyes breaking in a new coach and goalie, there may be some growing pains this season, but the Buckeyes should still compete. A schedule full of perennial hockey powerhouse programs offers several potential trouble spots. After the new year hits the Buckeyes will have to travel to Minnesota and Wisconsin in back to back weeks. Then, later in the season thanks to the Big Ten only having six teams, the Buckeyes play at Michigan State, vs Wisconsin, at/vs Michigan and vs Minnesota in a five week stretch, which would be the football version of tussling with the SEC West in a two week span.
I see the Buckeyes battling with Michigan State for 4th in the Big Ten, with Penn State bringing up the rear.
A quick note for OSU students and Columbus residents
This year is going to be a big year for Ohio State hockey and they are going to need you like the football and basketball team does. Buckeye fans will get the chance to see some of the best squads in college hockey, as well as an improved, competitive Buckeye squad. To help gain some fans and the support of the student body you can attend every Buckeye home hockey game for "FREE" this season by just showing your current BuckID.
So lets all come together and support Coach Rohlik and the 2013 Ohio State men's hockey team as the compete in the Big Ten. This could be the start of something B1G.