But to prepare for the postseason – which begins tonight at Lake Superior State (7:30 p.m., CBS College Sports) – the Buckeyes got their roll on.
When the team arrived for practice Tuesday afternoon, it was told not to lace up the skates but to put on some bowling shoes. Head coach Mark Osiecki bused the Buckeyes to a bowling alley for an impromptu tournament that took the place of a practice session.
Oh, and in an interesting note – and one that left that had to leave the Sawmill Lanes staff reaching for the air freshener – the Buckeyes had to wear their hockey gear, sans shoulder pads, for the event.
"I was kind of surprised because we had our gear on, so I was getting psyched up for practice there for a second and then he threw a loophole in there, but it was good," senior Peter Boyd said. "I think guys responded well to it, so it was good."
The team featuring seniors C.J. Severyn, Chris Reed, sophomore Brandon Martell and freshman Chris Crane emerged victorious, with Crane posting the event's high score.
"There's a few ringers on the team," Boyd said. "Chris Crane had the curve going and then he had the sidestep watching it, so that was fun to watch. Chris Reed is pretty good, too, so a couple of ringers on the team."
Everyone was all smiles when talking about the event, meaning Osiecki likely achieved his goal.
"It's something I've done in the past," he said. "We wanted to create some team togetherness – just create team again. I think you go through some frustrating times. I think it's easy to start pointing fingers. We're getting on each other and showing frustration. Our biggest thing was we needed to create team again."
The Buckeyes could use the good vibes after a run of frustrating results to close the regular season. Ohio State was only 2-7-2 in its last 11 games, scoring 19 goals in the process, and notched only one point during the final weekend against Ferris State when two would have meant hosting a first-round series. As a result, Ohio State finished ninth in the CCHA, one point behind Lake Superior State.
The Buckeyes will face the Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in a best-of-three series with the winner moving on to the CCHA quarterfinals. Ohio State left on the team bus after Wednesday's practice for the nine-hour trip, another factor that should help bring the team together.
"The road is a lot of fun for a team," Boyd said. "You get together with your brothers, and it's always a lot of fun, just a lot of laughs, and it really gets you together more as a team."
Still, history does not appear to be on the Buckeyes' side when it comes to going on the road for the CCHA playoffs. Since the league adopted its current three-weekend format in 2006, the Buckeyes have lost their only two first-round road series – at Ferris State in the inaugural year and at Northern Michigan in 2008.
In all, Ohio State hasn't won a road playoff series since 2002 at Western Michigan, and the Buckeyes are 0-5-1 in conference road games in the calendar year of 2011. However, the Buckeyes think the trip could end positively.
"I think for me personally, I love going on the road," goaltender Cal Heeter said. "You get out of Columbus, you get away from school, you're away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I think it's relaxing going on the road. You wake up, you eat, you go to the rink, you practice, you go home, go back to the rink and play a game. I love the road."
Ohio State and Lake Superior State faced off only two weeks ago in Value City Arena, with the Lakers winning a shootout in the opening game after a 1-1 tie and OSU responding with a 5-2 victory a night later.
"I think it's good for our mind-set," Osiecki said of OSU playing a team it has already fared well against. "The tough thing is that we just played them two weeks ago and they're going to be ready for us and understanding what happened here as well."
Senior Rick Schofield led Lake State with 14 goals and 30 points, while Domenic Monardo was second in each category with 12 goals and 26 points. Zach Trotman and Matt Cowie added a combined 10 goals and 35 points from the blue line, while freshman Kyle Jean had a 1-11-12 line and was impressive in the teams' meeting in Columbus.
Of course, regular season stats and records are out the window. Starting tonight, the only thing that matters is winning two out of three games – survive and advance.
"There's nothing like playoffs in hockey," Heeter said. "The atmosphere changes. As soon as you step into the rink you can feel it. No matter if you're on the road or at home, playoff hockey is like nothing else. I love it."