This weekend, on the other hand, is all about hockey. The Buckeyes' hopes of getting a bye for the first round of the CCHA playoffs or even home ice come down to games tonight and tomorrow vs. Ferris State in Value City Arena.
"Personally, I like getting it out of the way the weekend before," senior C.J. Severyn said of the pomp and circumstance. "I don't want to worry about my last weekend here. I was glad to get it over last weekend and just worry about the hockey aspect."
The Buckeyes (15-15-3, 10-13-3-2) sit in ninth place in the CCHA with 35 points but can still reach as high as fourth, which gets a first-round bye and hosts a second-round playoff series. Spot No. 5 receives a bye then travels to play fourth place in round No. 2, while slots six through eight host playoff series on their home ice next weekend against teams nine through 11.
Ohio State would need a sweep of the Bulldogs and some help to reach the fourth spot, but there are clear paths to the other places. A single regulation or overtime win would allow OSU to tie Alaska, which is tied for sixth with 38 points, and the Buckeyes own the tiebreaker vs. the Nanooks to clinch, at the very least, home ice.
OSU can also catch eighth-place Lake Superior, which is two points ahead but hosts third-place Miami, which is battling for an NCAA tournament spot. In addition, fifth-place Northern Michigan (39 points) hosts second-place Michigan, which is battling for a league title.
Finally, Ferris State is tied for sixth with Alaska, three points ahead of OSU, but the Buckeyes would make up ground on the visiting Bulldogs by simply taking care of business on the ice.
Taking a cue from head coach Mark Osiecki, most players questioned said they haven't looked too closely at the standings. What they do know, however, is much is at stake.
"I don't know exactly what place we're in, but obviously we have to win this weekend to move up," co-captain Sean Duddy said. "We can only control what we can do this weekend, but I've heard we can put ourselves in a good position if we play well this weekend."
Osiecki said, in keeping with his message all year, that he wouldn't bring up the standings with his team.
"I think that's always going to be our approach, to try not to put as much pressure on them," he said. "That's all it does, so (we're) just really worried about ourselves. For the most part our players have done a great job with that. They've worried about themselves, and I think all we have to do is look at how we've played here as late. It's been good to see.
The Buckeyes are 2-6-1 in their last nine games, but Osiecki has constantly said during much of that span that the team has been playing well, especially when it comes to playing their disciplined style and preventing goals. The problem has come on offense, where the team is averaging 1.0 goals per game in the losses and tie.
The good news in that realm is that OSU exploded for five tallies in its last game Saturday night, a 5-2 win against LSSU in which the team had its backs against the wall.
"I felt like last weekend was playoff mode in our minds," Severyn said. "In our minds and in our coaches' minds, we have the team in the locker room to get the job done. Hopefully if we win both games this weekend, we can get that first-round bye. It's still an opportunity for us."
For inspiration, Osiecki doesn't have to look very far. A Green Bay Packers fan, Osiecki watched his NFL team survive must-win contests at the end of the regular season before rampaging through the playoffs on the way to a Super Bowl victory earlier this month.
"That's our mentality," Osiecki said. "It's kind of like the Green Bay Packers – get in, get to that playoff mentality and frame of mind right away and let's keep on moving forward."
All About The D
Ohio State sits 13th in Division I with only 2.42 goals allowed per game, a figure that has dropped to 2.0 in the last six contests.
Much of the credit for that has gone to junior goaltender Cal Heeter – who leads the nation in minutes played and is third in saves – but the success has stemmed from much more than just one guy.
"It's a collective effort," Osiecki said. "It starts with Cal first, and our defensemen have been playing well. Our forwards are doing a good job helping both out. I think it's a true collective effort."
The Buckeyes have allowed more than two goals in a game only once in the past six, a 3-2 loss to Michigan on Feb. 11. In addition, OSU has allowed more than 30 shots only once, during a 2-1 loss to Michigan a night later.
Limiting the shots on Heeter – especially when it comes to rebound opportunities – has been one reason for the Buckeyes' success.
"As a team I think we've done a really good job of blocking shots lately," Duddy said. "As defensemen, we can't let guys get in front of the net, behind us, loose around Cal. They can't get rebound goals. We have to limit those chances. Overall, I think we're doing a good job of blocking shots and back-checking by the forwards and limiting teams on their chances."
Duddy also pointed out that the team is at its best when it brings the lumber and hits people, with Osiecki having set a target of hits he wants to see the team reach in each game.
That wasn't much of a problem against Lake Superior State. Kyle Reed laid out two players in the opening game, and OSU got back into the finale after two early goals when it upped its physical play.
Though Reed missed a chance at an overtime winner in the opening game to remain scoreless during his senior season, his continued commitment to the other facets of the game was on display in his physical impact and commitment to defense.
"I had a chance there in overtime I wanted to bury," he said. "It would have been good to get it in there, but you can't let that discourage you too bad. There's another part of the game you can contribute to and make yourself noticeable out there. That's exactly what it ties into."