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Ohio State’s men’s hockey team turns attention to Big Ten Tournament

The Puckeyes lost four straight to close the regular season, but they’ll get a week off to address their recent issues before returning to the ice.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 19 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week our Megan Husslein put a bow on the regular season for Ohio State’s women’s hockey team, as well as how the former and current Buckeyes fared in the Olympics. While the women’s hockey team currently sits second in the country, and is a favorite to reach the Frozen Four, there are a lot more questions surrounding the men’s team.

The Puckeyes closed the regular season on a four-game losing streak, but they will have some time to try and work on some of their recent issues, as Ohio State has a bye this coming weekend. The Buckeyes will have their eyes glued to the scoreboards the rest of the regular season since the games between Notre Dame and Michigan will determine Ohio State’s seeding for next week’s Big Ten Tournament. Notre Dame currently sits one point behind the Buckeyes with two games against the Wolverines in South Bend on tap.

No matter what happens with Notre Dame in the standings, Ohio State will be hosting a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal next weekend in Columbus, since the two through four seeds get to host a quarterfinal. The Buckeyes will be hosting either Wisconsin, Penn State, or Michigan State, but it’s way too early to figure that out yet since Wisconsin takes on Minnesota, while Penn State and Michigan State square off.

Ohio State closed out their regular season schedule with two losses against Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend. Friday’s 5-3 loss was the better of the two performances by the Buckeyes, who scored with 20 seconds left in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Michigan responded with three goals in the first eight minutes of the second period, but Ohio State responded with a goal in the second and another early in the third to tie the game 3-3.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 19 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan used a power play goal with around seven minutes to go to take the lead for good, and added an empty net goal with 30 seconds to go to push the final score to 5-3. Saturday’s game wasn’t as competitive, with Michigan scoring one goal in each period to end Ohio State’s regular season schedule with a 3-0 loss. Saturday’s loss was only the second time this season that Ohio State has been shutout in a game.

So where does that leave the Buckeyes when it comes to the NCAA Tournament? The answer to that question isn’t anywhere close to being answered. Ohio State could win the Big Ten Tournament to secure one of the six automatic spots in the 16-team tournament. To do that, Ohio State is going to have to snap out of their recent funk that has seen them loss their last four games. Prior to the close to the regular season, Ohio State had won six of seven games, with the only loss during that span coming in a shootout, so they have shown the ability to go on a run.

More than likely the Buckeyes are going to need to have a solid performance in the Big Ten Tournament to secure an automatic bid. Ohio State is currently 12th in the rankings. If the Buckeyes can earn a stop in the NCAA Tournament, it will be their first appearance in hockey’s big dance since 2019 when they lost to Denver 2-0 in a regional semifinal. The previous season Ohio State reached the Frozen Four under Steve Rohlik, giving the Buckeyes their first Frozen Four appearance since 1998 under head coach John Markell.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 05 Wisconsin at Ohio State Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One way that Ohio State could make a run on the ice in March is if freshman goaltender Jakub Dobeš continues his strong play in his first season in the scarlet and gray. Dobeš was recently named a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, which is given to the top goaltender in Division I. Dobeš is the only freshman on the list, and is the third Buckeye goalie to be recently be considered for the award, as in 2018 Sean Romeo and in 2019 Tommy Nappier were named finalists. Dobeš has 20 wins this season, which are seventh-most in a season in Ohio State history.

Ohio State can’t afford to see their defense falter in a game, since they only have two players that reached double-digits in goals this year. Freshman forward Georgii Merkulov led the Buckeyes with 18 goals this year, and senior Jake Wise added 10 goals. Ohio State averaged 3.47 goals per game this year but a lot of those tallies came against teams sitting below them in the standings. The net seemed to get a little smaller against Minnesota, Michigan, and Notre Dame.

Much like the NCAA’s college basketball tournament, once you get into the tournament, all bets are off. If a team gets hot at the right time, they could ride that wave all the way to the Frozen Four and a national title. Don’t put it past the Buckeyes to be that team, especially since they are getting a bit of rest before the Big Ten Tournament starts next weekend. Stay turned to LGHL, as we’ll keep you updated on how the Buckeyes fare when they host some action next weekend.