In lieu of handing out generic "Player of the Week" awards, the B1G has opted for a different manner of honoring its best in its inaugural season as a hockey conference. The "Three Stars" are announced every Tuesday, and those paying attention have begun to notice a Scarlet-and-Grey theme emerging in recent weeks.
The charge has been led by junior forward Ryan Dzingel and freshman goalie Christian Frey. Dzingel earned the attention for a pair of strong showings against Penn State, including the tying goal en route to a comeback, as well as a hat trick against Michigan State earlier in the month. He has been named to the Three Stars a total of three times this season.
Frey, formerly of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, joined the Buckeyes mid-season and has appeared in six games since. The freshman netminder has posted a record of 5-1 and a laudable 2.19 GAA. Frey, a member of the Buckeyes for barely a month, has already been feted by the B1G in back-to-back weeks for his strong showings against Penn State and Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes, perhaps trying to provide some Penn State-directed schadenfreude after the basketball team's humiliating defeat, absolutely shellacked the Nittany Lions in Columbus last weekend. The aggregate score across two games amounted to 10-3, with OSU rallying to overcome an 0-2 hole in the second game to the final tune of 5-2.
Sadly, the "OHIO STATE NEVER BEATS ANYONE GOOD" bias persists even in less-popular sports, despite a glaring lack of SEC teams atop the hockey power rankings. A pair of victories against perennial B1G cellar-dweller Penn State hasn't done much to shake that perception. Fortunately, the Buckeyes also recently went on the road to face a nationally-ranked Wisconsin team and left Madison with a 1-1 game split to their credit. The 3-1 victory, coupled with the convincing demolition of PSU, was enough to make voters start paying attention. OSU received 18 votes in the most recent NCAA rankings, third-best among teams on the outside looking in.
The Buckeyes have a lot to prove in the six weeks before B1G tournament play begins, lest callers on whichever radio show counts as the hockey equivalent of Pawwwlll Finebaum's should dare to denigrate what they've achieved already this year. Ohio State will have plenty of chances to show what it can do, as tilts remain against top-ranked Minnesota, 10th-ranked Michigan (a home-and-away set, one of which will be played at Nationwide Arena), and #12 Wisconsin in a late-season rematch.
OSU heads to East Lansing this weekend to face off against Sparty. The two met last month and the Buckeyes took the first game, while Michigan State picked up the extra point after a game two tie by winning a six-round shootout.
Should the tandem of Frey and Dzingel continue to be the class of the B1G, and the rest of the team continue to grind out productive minutes, the Buckeyes will be in good shape heading into tournament play in late March. The fledgling conference is thick with talented teams, but OSU has the personnel to make some noise when it really counts. We'll be watching for the inevitable crowning of more Buckeye stars.