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Men’s Ice Hockey: No. 3 seed Ohio State continues postseason journey with Big Ten Tournament semifinal matchup against No. 2 seed Michigan

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Ohio State takes on Michigan in Ann Arbor in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal on Saturday. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

After advancing in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2020, No. 3 seed Ohio State travels north to Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan, looking to continue its run to a conference tournament championship against No. 2 seed Michigan in the semifinal round Saturday.

The Buckeyes (20-14-3) rode strong goaltending to a quarterfinal series win against No. 6 seed Penn State. The Wolverines (22-11-3) relied on their high-powered offense, scoring 13 goals in two games to sweep last-seeded Wisconsin.

Both teams appear safe for an NCAA Tournament appearance, with Ohio State and Michigan ranked No. 10 and No. 4 in PairWise rankings, respectively.

With the chance to advance and win their first-ever Big Ten Tournament Championship, Ohio State is hungrier than ever to defeat its rival school.

“All the boys are super stoked right now,” senior defenseman Dominic Vidoli said. “It’s a single game [elimination], so it raises the stakes for each game, and you can kind of feel the buzz of it.”

Sophomore goaltender Jakub Dobeš had a solid weekend in front of the net against the Nittany Lions, surrendering only four goals and tallying 93 saves in three games. The Wolverine defense, led by counterpart junior Erik Portillo, had difficulties with the Badgers, allowing nine pucks into the net in two contests.

Head coach Steve Rohlik said the Buckeyes must stick to the defensive system they’ve used all year to combat the Michigan offense.

“We know Michigan very well,” Rohlik said. “They’re very talented, and we’ve just got to stick with our structure. And I think if we do that, that helps and sets us up for success.”

Wolverine freshman forward Adam Fantilli was unstoppable against Wisconsin, recording seven points in the series, including a hat trick in Game 2. He ranks atop the nation in points with 56 and second in goals with 25.

The Michigan offensive threat only begins there. Sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes has 40 points on the campaign, with three other forwards recording 30-plus, sophomore Mackie Samoskevich and freshmen T.J Hughes and Gavin Brindley.

“We know they’re going to get their opportunities, and we’ve just got to limit them to one [shot], not two and three at a time,” Rohlik said. “That’s just the way we’re built.”

Ohio State and Michigan get plenty of volume on the net, ranking second and third in the conference in shot-on-goal opportunities per game at 36.22 and 34.08, respectively.

The Buckeyes don’t have the offensive accolades of the Wolverines, but they get contributions from all over the roster, as seen in Game 3 against Penn State when they got two scores from defensemen. Senior forward Tate Singleton said it’s a testament to the selfless nature of the team.

“We have some depth, and we want to win,” Singleton said. “We want to have success, and defense leads to offense. When we get a stop in [the defensive zone], we get the puck, and we go score.”

Both teams spend a lot of time in the penalty box, with Michigan ranking dead-last in the Big Ten, averaging 6.17 per contest — Ohio State trails just behind at second-to-last at 5.08.

The Buckeyes had a mixed performance on special teams against the Nittany Lions. Ohio State went 8-of-9 on the penalty kill but only 2-of-13 on the power play. The Wolverines went a more efficient 2-for-7 with the man advantage against the Badgers.

“Sometimes it’s momentum, and sometimes it’s what the other teams are doing,” Rohlik said. “We’ve just got to work through those things. Hopefully, we’re going to have a good week here practicing. [We’ve] got to go up with confidence no matter how it goes or what happens.”

Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Big Ten Network will televise. The winner will face top-seeded Minnesota or No. 5 seed Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game March 18.

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