Going into the final regular season weekend, Ohio State finds itself one spot outside of the PairWise Rankings top 16.
When they travel to face Wisconsin this weekend, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to beat a team that is ahead of them in the rankings and put themselves in a better spot heading into the Big Ten tournament.
That’s the big picture, but coach Steve Rohlik insisted they’re not looking past Friday’s tilt with the Badgers.
“Our concentration is on Friday night, to go up there and play the best hockey game we possibly can,” he said. “The only thing we can control right now is the one game ahead of us.”
No matter the results of this weekend’s series with the Badgers, Ohio State has a stable of seven seniors that it plans on leaning on when the playoffs do roll around. Rohlik said he challenged the senior group after last Friday’s 5-4 loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes turned things around and defeated the Spartans 5-3 on Saturday.
“Those seven guys have been through a lot. They’ve been through some great wins and some losses and they’ve got a lot of experience,” he said. “I think that’s the key right now. Everybody in that room is looking to those seven for leadership, and I think that’s something we need right now.”
Included in the group of seniors is the Buckeyes’ leading goal scorer Nick Schilkey, who has lit the lamp 26 times this season. Rohlik said that as impressive as Schilkey’s performance has been on the ice this season, the personality of his two-time captain has equaled it off the ice.
“It’s a tribute to him and, again, I say this to every person I can, he’s even a better person than he is a player and that’s what makes him special,” he said. “What he’s doing on the ice, he’s got a magic stick, he’s dangerous at any time and I’m just really happy because he’s an unbelievable kid.
“His best leadership quality is just how he conducts himself,” Rohlik added. “He’s impressive to talk to, he articulates, he’s great in school, he’s almost a 4.0 student. I think our guys just respect everything he does.”
Rohlik also said that at the team’s senior brunch last weekend another senior stated that Schilkey “does the right thing 10 out of 10 times.”
Schilkey missed the Buckeyes’ first series against Wisconsin because of an injury, but since returning to the lineup he has paced the Buckeyes’ offense. He’s also a prominent part of Ohio State’s top-ranked power play.
“We might not go out there and look the best at times and dominate, but at the end of the day somehow we find a way to get the puck in the net,” Rohlik said of the power play’s success. “One stretch it was one unit that was scoring a few goals, the other stretch it was the other unit.”
As good as the power play is, Ohio State’s penalty kill is near the bottom of the barrel right now. The Buckeyes don’t go to the box an excessive amount — they average only 11.72 minutes per game — but Rohlik would like to see a better conversion rate than the current 72.9 percent when it comes to killing the penalties that are taken.
“First and foremost, the best penalty kill is to stay out of the box. Secondly, it’s just about buying in,” he said. “You look around, a lot of teams are doing similar things in the defensive zone and to me, ultimately, it’s about guys paying the price and guys blocking shots and doing all those little things. Right now we’ve got to do things better than we’ve done. We’re capable, and certainly it’s crazy to see where our numbers are right now, but I know we’re capable of doing it and hopefully we can get it done down the stretch.”
Wisconsin preps for a busy weekend
Hockey fans in Madison may want to make a list of things to do this weekend because there’s quite a bit going on.
On Thursday, there will be a memorial, or more accurately celebration of life, for former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer at the Kohl Center beginning at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the Badgers will celebrate senior night and honor the 40th anniversary of their 1977 NCAA championship team. Capping things off on Sunday will be a skate with the Badgers event.
Oh, and Wisconsin also has two games against the aforementioned Buckeyes with a chance to jump Minnesota and claim the Big Ten regular season crown.
“This weekend, for us, is set up as well as we could have hoped from the beginning of the season,” Wisconsin coach Tony Granato said at the Badgers’ Monday news conference. “We’re in control of where we can be moving forward. It’s a big weekend for us as a program. We’ve worked really hard to get here.”
Granato said that the whole team will partake in all the events this weekend, but he doesn’t expect it to have any effect on the games. In fact, he hoped that all the events would bring large crowds and a big home-ice advantage.
“There’s a lot of excitement and buzz this weekend for a lot of different reasons,” Granato said. “I would really hope we get a ton of fans at these two games this weekend to kind of celebrate how this year has gone.”
Granato concluded the conference by reflecting on Sauer’s influence on himself and everyone that had a chance to cross paths with the former coach. Sauer reached out to Granato shortly before he passed to congratulate him about the direction the program was heading.
“The thought of him reaching out to me was something that meant a lot to me,” he said. “His impact on our program, and I’m trying to think of this in a bigger picture, I know what he meant to me individually, but I talked to quite a few teammates that played for Coach [Sauer] in the last few days as we get closer to the celebration and the stories, and the smiles, and the laughs, and the understanding of what he meant to us as a person is what will stay with us forever.
“He was a phenomenal person to play for,” Granato added. “He had your back 24 hours a day, no matter what, and when you’re a kid and you come into this thing you make mistakes and never once did look at you and say ‘you can’t do that, what are you doing?’ He’d back you up and I can tell you that everybody that’s played for him would say the same thing.”
Granato said that his goal was to emulate the culture that surrounded Wisconsin’s hockey program when Sauer was the coach.
“Anything that he’s ever told me or said to me will always be remembered.”
Three stars of the week
First star — Ohio State sophomore forward Mason Jobst: Jobst had two goals and three assists last weekend as the Buckeyes split with Michigan State. He had a short-handed goal and two assists in Friday’s loss and a power-play goal and primary assist on the game-winning goal in Saturday’s victory. The five points puts his season total at 47, which is the most for an Ohio State player since R.J. Umberger had 53 points in 2002-03. This is his third career Big Ten weekly award.
Second star — Minnesota sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy: Sheehy had four points for the Gophers last weekend. He had an assist on Friday and two goals and another helper on Saturday. This is his sixth career Big Ten weekly award.
Third star — Penn State senior forward David Goodwin: Goodwin had two goals and two assists in Penn State’s 6-0 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. This is his fifth career weekly award.
B1G in the poll
No. 5 Minnesota, No. 11 Penn State, No. 15 Ohio State and No. 16 Wisconsin represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.
3. Minnesota Duluth
4. UMass Lowell
7. Boston University
8. Western Michigan
11. Penn State
12. Notre Dame
14. Ohio State
15. North Dakota
17. Boston College
18. Air Force
20. St. Lawrence
This week’s matchups
Penn State at Michigan (Friday and Saturday, Yost Ice Arena)
Michigan State at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Friday and Saturday, Kohl Center)