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Ohio State men’s hockey seeking first ever Big Ten tournament title

The Buckeyes take on the Nittany Lions in this weekend’s semifinal matchup

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Minnesota Duluth vs Ohio State Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State men’s ice hockey team has seemingly gotten better and better with each passing season in recent years. After making the NCAA Tournament in 2017 for the first time since 2009, the Buckeyes made their first Frozen Four appearance in 20 years last season. After a 2nd-place finish in the Big Ten in 2018, OSU brought home its first ever B1G title this year, and is now looking to add to its impressive run by securing its first ever conference tournament title.

In order to accomplish this feat, Ohio State must first defeat a No. 4 seed Penn State team on Sunday in the tourney’s semifinal matchup. The single elimination showdown will be played at Value City Arena this Sunday, March 17 at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

This year’s Ohio State hockey team finished the year 20-9-5 overall, with a 13-7-4 record in conference. Finishing the season ranked sixth in the country, the Buckeyes had a number of impressive wins, especially in the middle of their schedule. Their most notable run came during a 12-game stretch beginning on Dec. 28, wherein OSU went 10-1-1. After taking both games in a series against Mercyhurst, Ohio State took a game each against Michigan State and Michigan before sweeping No. 13 Penn State, No. 11 Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

As with any successful hockey team, the Bucks got some big contributions from all over the ice. On the offensive side, Ohio State was led by Big Ten Player of the Year finalist Mason Jobst. The senior forward out of Speedway, Indiana scored a team-high 17 goals while adding 19 assists, racking up a total of 36 points to lead all Buckeyes and finishing with a plus-11 rating. Jobst was aided in part by junior forward Tanner Laczynski, who despite only playing in 25 games finished the regular season second on the team in points with 30, coming on 10 goals and a team-high 20 assists.

Defensively Ohio State was solid as well, finishing the season with the 13th-best defense in the country, allowing only 2.24 goals per game. A big reason for their success in keeping opponents off the scoreboard was senior defenseman Sasha Larocque, a finalist for B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Larocque finished the season with just nine points on seven assists and a pair of goals, but racked up 47 blocked shots and had a team-high rating of plus-14.

Of course, regardless of how good a team’s defense is, they can only go so far without some solid play from their goaltender. Luckily for Ohio State, the roster features a pair of guys who are more than capable in net — Tommy Nappier and Sean Romeo. Both players started 17 games this season for the Buckeyes, with Nappier finishing a finalist for Goaltender of the Year at 12-2-3 with four shutouts and a 1.78 goals against average. Romeo was very solid in his own right, going 8-7-2 with three shutouts and a 2.58 goals against average.

Penn State finished the year 21-14-2, with a 11-12-1 record in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are much more experienced in this tournament than Ohio State in recent years, advancing to the semifinal round for the fourth straight year and their fifth in six seasons. While the Buckeyes received a bye in the opening round, Penn State played a three-game series against Wisconsin, needing additional time to take down the Badgers in the final contest. After falling 4-3 in the first game, the Nittany Lions dominated game two 6-2 before taking the series in a 4-3 OT win this past Sunday.

Scoring goals is the main focus of every hockey team in the country, and nobody did it better than Penn State this season. The nation’s top-ranked offense tallied a whopping 170 goals in 37 games — 33 more than the next best team — good for a 4.59 goal per game average. The Nittany Lion offense was led by Alex Limoges. The sophomore forward scored a team-high 22 goals while also tying for the team lead with 26 assists en route to a 48-point season and +22 rating. Limoges was fifth in the nation in goals per game at .59 and fifth in points per game with a 1.30 average.

Penn State, however is a tale of two extremes. While they have the best offense in the country, they also feature one of the worst defenses in the country. The Nittany Lions rank 57th out of 60 teams in scoring defense, allowing 3.65 goals per game. They allowed 135 goals this season, with 31 coming on the power play and six were shorthanded. Despite poor defensive numbers, freshman defenseman Paul DeNaples was a lone bright spot as a finalist for B1G Defensive Player of the Year. DeNaples finished the regular season with two goals and 12 assists as he registered a team-high plus-31 rating.

While Ohio State utilized a two-player system in net, Nittany Lions goaltender Peyton Jones was a one-man show. The junior from Langhorne, Penn., holds a 17-11-2 record to go along with a .898 save percentage. With Penn State’s poor defense allowing a high volume of shots, Jones made 885 saves this season while allowing 100 goals, good for a 3.41 goals against average. Jones did not register a shutout this season.

This will be the second time the two teams have met in the Big Ten tournament, with Ohio State coming away victorious in their only other meeting. The two teams have met a total of 27 times overall, with the Buckeyes holding a 15-9-2 advantage including winning this season’s series 3-1. The Nittany Lions however, have been very good in these games, having won seven of their last nine Big Ten tourney games.

The winner of the semifinal matchup will advance to take on the winner of Notre Dame and Minnesota, who play Saturday at 7 p.m. EST. The championship game will take place on either March 23 or 24, with the higher seed hosting the lower seed. Should Ohio State defeat Penn State on Sunday, they would host the final matchup, which is also single elimination.