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Men’s Ice Hockey: Buckeyes return to play, redemption on their minds

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Ohio State senior forward Matt Cassidy (20) straps in before No. 12 Ohio State’s (13-7-1, 6-5-0) 5-0 win over No. 14 Michigan State (12-10-1, 6-6-1) in Columbus Jan. 7. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

On Feb. 5, 2022, Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 6-2 to improve to a 21-7-2 record on the year.

Ranked No. 8 in the country and in first place in the Big Ten Conference, the 2021-22 squad was primed to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.

What happened next was quite different than what the Buckeyes expected.

The Buckeyes lost the final four games of the regular season and dropped two of three games to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, missing out on the conference championship game and failing to get an at-large bid at the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we got too comfortable,” fifth-year forward Jake Wise said. “It’s a long year, and we were riding pretty good there for a while, and I think towards the end of the year, we all kind of got away from our game and expected to win. [We] didn’t earn those wins, and then it ended up, obviously, hurting us.”

This season, No. 7 Ohio State finds itself in a similar situation.

The Buckeyes (16-9-1, 9-7-0 Big Ten) come off a bye week and last split a series against the Badgers Jan. 20-21. They’re amidst a 7-2 stretch and find themselves tied for second place in the Big Ten standings with under a month to go in the regular season.

Head coach Steve Rohlik believes a more balanced team effort is the main reason this year’s squad presents an opportunity for a better outcome.

“I think we’ve got a really close group this year,” Rohlik said. “I think we’ve had a lot of different guys step up this year due to all our injuries and guys missing games. I think what’s been important has been our depth, and everybody’s contributed, so all 27 guys are a big part of it. We’re going to need that here going down the stretch.”

Among the injuries for Ohio State this season includes fifth-year forward Gustaf Westlund, who has not played since an Oct. 14, 2022, contest against UConn.

Another strength of the Buckeyes all season has been their special teams, ranking first in penalty-killing percentage and third in power-play conversion percentage in the Big Ten. In their last outing against Wisconsin, the special teams were on display, stopping all six Badger power-play opportunities.

Defensively, sophomore goalie Jakub Dobeš has been strong all season, leading the Buckeyes to the lowest goals-against average in the Big Ten at 2.34 and third in save percentage at 91.5.

Ohio State has struggled on the offensive side of the ice recently, only scoring four total goals in its last three contests, plummeting them to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten at fourth in goals, assists and points per game.

“I think we sometimes rely too much on our special teams,” Wise said. “And if we can score more five on five, I think it’ll put us in a good spot to be leading games. I think we’re a good team when we have the lead, so if we can get ahead early and hold on to the lead, that would be a big part of our success.”

Rohlik said Ohio State took advantage of the bye week by catching up on rest and better practices.

“I want to make sure our guys are catching up academically, but we’ve tried to balance some days off with rehab and getting guys back closer to 100 percent,” Rohlik said. “Also, [with] the time we are on the ice, our focus in detail is extremely high, and I think that’s been the attitude.”

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