The Ohio State men’s hockey team got the 2021-22 season underway Saturday, hosting Western Michigan for an exhibition match prior to the start of the regular season next weekend.
The Buckeyes lost 3-1 despite a debut goal from freshman forward Georgii Merkulov and solid goaltending from junior Ryan Snowden.
“You always step on the ice to win, no matter what you’re doing,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “The disappointing thing is we lost, but the nice thing is we got some things to build on.”
The Broncos opened the scoring at the 7:37 mark of the first period on a power-play goal from senior forward Ethen Frank. Frank’s goal came less than a minute after Ohio State junior forward Tate Singleton was sent to the penalty box for elbowing.
Ohio State leveled the score at one following an even-strength goal from Merkulov less than five minutes into the second period. The goal was assisted by freshman forward Cam Thiesing and junior forward Kamil Sadlocha.
Rohlik said he was happy to see the two freshmen, Merkulov and Thiesing, combine to put one in the back of the net.
“That’s kind of how we’re going to be this year; we’re going to have to score by committee,” Rohlik said. “It was nice to see some young guys be involved.”
Western Michigan scored two goals just 25 seconds apart in the third and final period to put the game out of reach. Senior forward Josh Passolt regained the lead for the Broncos before sophomore forward Luke Grainger made the score 3-1 with just 5:37 remaining.
Despite the defeat, Rohlik said he was pleased with the performances turned in by Snowden and freshman Jakub Dobes, the two netminders who saw action for the Buckeyes Saturday. Both goalies got 30 minutes of ice time and combined to save 23 of 26 shots they faced.
“I thought Snowden played great. He played half the game out there and made some really nice saves. He impressed me,” Rohlik said. “Jakub comes in as a freshman, getting his feet wet in his first game, and he was really good there.”
A real downfall for the Buckeyes Saturday was their inability to capitalize with a man advantage. Ohio State was 0-4 on the power play and struggled to create consistent chances when playing five-on-four.
Rohlik said there would be a real point of emphasis to improve the power-play unit in practice this week and expects the unit to get better as his team familiarizes itself with each other on the ice.
“We got a lot of new guys, a lot of guys in different spots, so it’s something we’re going to work on,” Rohlik said. “Special teams is such a difference. The team that does better on special teams or wins power plays usually wins the game.”
Although it was just an exhibition, senior forward Quinn Preston relished the opportunity to get back on the ice with someone other than his teammates.
“It was nice to get some unfamiliar faces in there,” Preston said. “I think guys are a little tired of banging each other up.”
Preston said he thought the team played well given the circumstances, but there are a few things he wants to see improve before the regular season gets underway next weekend.
“I think just coming out a little faster and obviously getting pucks to the net,” Preston said. “We need to spend some more time in the offensive zone. I think that would’ve worn them down and made the game a little bit easier for us.”
Despite the loss, Preston said he feels the team can compete with anybody in the Big Ten and remains confident ahead of this season.
“We’re coming for everyone. Whoever’s up next, we’re coming for them,” Preston said. “We don’t want to lose to anybody. We want to beat the big dogs.”
The Buckeyes open regular-season play on the road against Bentley with a 7:05 p.m. start Friday on Flohockey.TV.