MANCHESTER, N.H. – Quite possibly no team in the NCAA tournament field is as thankful to be playing as Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were the last at-large team selected for the 16-team field. To boot, they sat idle last weekend after losing a hard-fought, three-game quarterfinal series to Alaska two weekends ago.
To say that the wait was a tough one might be an understatement.
“I think I was more nervous than the players,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “I refused to look at [the scenarios that would get us in]; I would just bug everybody else.
“Truthfully, it was a long week. But we were hoping that our body of work gave us opportunities. I knew the committee went off the numbers and if we could hang in there and get the proper teams winning, [we’d make it].”
Markell admitted that his team’s bid required almost planets to align. There needed to be a minimal number of upsets so that teams outside of the top 14 in the PairWise rankings didn’t steal a bid. He also, though maybe didn’t realize it at the time, needed some help from Minnesota-Duluth, which won the WCHA tournament and in the process beat Minnesota, which finished two-ten thousandths of a point behind Ohio State in the final RPI, which was used to break the tie between the two clubs and determine the final bid.
“I was driving home when the Yale-St. Lawrence game had about two minutes to go and [Yale] was down, 2-1 [when I left],” said Markell, knowing that St. Lawrence winning in last Friday’s ECAC quarterfinal could hurt his team’s chances. “I think I had a little road rage. We needed [Yale to win]. Yale came through in the end with a minute and a half left.
“At that point I said, ‘Maybe things are going to fall into place for us.”
The final piece of the puzzle that had to fall into place was Boston University’s win over Mass.-Lowell.
“I told [BU coach] Jack [Parker] in the hall, ‘I was your biggest fan on Saturday night,’” said Markell, who ironically must now face those same Terriers in tomorrow’s Northeast Regional. “I couldn’t watch the game. We were just very fortunate the way things fell for us.”
Ohio State might be the number four seed in this regional and must now face the number one overall seed in BU, but Markell believes firmly that his team’s experience this season, including some big wins against Michigan, Notre Dame and Denver, all NCAA tournament teams, could help.
In fact, win or lose this year, Ohio State’s schedule, playing in the CCHA has tested them from day one and prepared them for this weekend.
“BU has the power play like Notre Dame, they have the explosiveness like Michigan,” said Markell. “Our league provides us with the opportunity to play similar teams [to BU]. When those teams are playing very well, they would match up with the likes of BU.”
Playing the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame, then, has also taught Markell that Saturday evening’s game will take a yeoman’s effort if the Buckeyes are to come away victorious.
“If we stand around and watch BU play, it’s going to be a long night,” said Markell. “But we have to come out and compete and battle. That’s what I’m worried about.”
Fountain of Youth
Twenty-two of the 27 players dotting the Buckeye roster are underclassmen. Is the team’s youth exceeding everyone’s expectations this year?
“Being a young guy, I thought at the start of the year we bonded pretty well,” said freshman Zac Dalpe, who was named to the CCHA All-Rookie. “I kind of had a feeling we were going to come this far into the playoffs in the tournament, so it’s not really a surprise. But we’re definitely happy to be here. Like I said, we’re a young team, but we can’t use that as an excuse anymore.”
Markell explained how important it was for goaltending to be solidified this year, and sophomore Dustin Carlson (21 wins) has been getting the job done, being the first Buckeye goalie to hit the 20 win-mark for a single season since Dave Caruso set the program record with 25 in 2005.
“I thought the last few years have been disappointing, but coming into this season we knew we had to have a goaltender come forward and Dustin Carlson did that,” said Markell.
Scouting Boston University
The Ohio State Buckeyes, making their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2005, are done studying for mid-term exams and have put all of their concentration on breaking down the nation’s number one team, Boston University.
“Obviously they’re the number one seed,” OSU sophomore Sergio Somma said. “They’re a really good team, really talented. Watching the tape, they’re really explosive. We just need to play our game and be physical, be in their face and try to put the pressure on them and take the game in the end.”
“I watched BU play against Denver in the Denver Cup and they were just a fantastic hockey club.” “said Markell .”I watched a little bit of tape [of the Hockey East final against] UMass Lowell. They have everything, they possess everything.”
Melissa Parrelli contributed to this report.