Buckeyes Look To Take Down No. 1

As far as home weekends go, they don't get much bigger for the Ohio State men's hockey team. Not only are the Buckeyes taking on No. 1 Minnesota this weekend, it is the final home weekend for four seniors who have been through a lot in the program.

The four seniors on the Ohio State men's hockey team will be honored Saturday in Value City Arena.

It will be an emotional night for defenseman Curtis Gedig and forwards Alex Lippincott, Travis Statchuk and Alex Szczechura. They have endured much over four seasons and it's sure to be a special moment when the players are recognized before the game.

But the outgoing players and their teammates will have no time to reflect on the event for one huge reason – as in top-ranked Minnesota.

Welcome to reality.

The Golden Gophers (23-4-5, 12-2-0 Big Ten) will look to replicate their January sweep of the Buckeyes in Minneapolis on their first trip to Columbus in more than seven years and the first time as a conference foe when the teams might Friday (7:30 p.m./SportsTime Ohio) and Saturday (6:30 p.m./ESPNEWS).

"If you want to get to the national tournament, do some things, you have to beat the best teams no matter who they are," OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. "Minnesota happens to the No. 1 team in our league, the No. 1 team in the country. It's another great challenge."

The Buckeyes (15-11-4, 5-7-4-3) are coming off earning two of six points against No. 13 Michigan to drop five spots behind the last national qualifying spot in the PairWise rankings that mimic the selection of the 16 teams for the NCAA Tournament.

Obviously, getting favorable results this weekend would give the Buckeyes a much-needed boost.

"If we can get some points, who knows what will happen," Rohlik said.

OSU will be hampered for the two games vs. Minnesota by the loss of senior forward Alex Szczechura, who injured his left leg in a 4-3 loss to Michigan on Sunday. He is fifth on the team with 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists).

Even worse for him, he won't be able to play on Senior Night.

"It sucks to be honest," he said. "Everybody wants to play their Senior Night. It's also a huge weekend for the team so you want to be out there and help the boys."

He is hoping to available for the final series of the regular season at Penn State March 14-15, which would be a blessing considering how serious the injury looked at first.

Szczechura was by himself when he took a step backward and crumpled to the ice in Nationwide Arena where the Buckeyes were hosting the Wolverines.

"I caught an edge," he said. "I tried to catch myself with my foot and it came under me."

It was one of those plays that those watching the TV replay as his leg buckled had to turn away.

"The nice part is it's not as bad as it looked like when you go back and watch the video," Rohlik said. "We got so many texts and calls like, ‘Sorry to see that.' "

Szczechura will join his classmates on the ice for pregame festivities Saturday.

For the four it's been a long, strange ride. They were recruited by coach John Markell but he was fired before their freshman season and replaced by Mark Osiecki, who was sacked in April and Rohlik was promoted from associate coach.

"They've been through some ups and downs as a group," Rohlik said. "They were recruited maybe by a different coach; then a second coach and now a third coach.

"As a group you don't see that. I give these guys all the credit in the world. They just come in and do their job. That's what our culture is all about. They're not in the limelight all the time, not all of them. They come to work every day."

Statchuk said it will be nice to be honored Saturday but, "The real focus is getting three points and beating Minnesota."

The Buckeyes are confident even though in the first series vs. the Golden Gophers this season they lost 1-0 outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium before more than 45,000 people on Jan. 17 and 4-2 the next night. The latter was at Mariucci Arena, which has a rink 15 feet wider than most in North America.

"They're a fast team and they're used to the Olympic ice," Gedig said. "Maybe if we get them on the NHL ice and play a tight D zone coverage we might have the upper hand."

NOTES: OSU junior Ryan Dzingel's 38 points leads the Big Ten for all games and his 19 in league play is also the highest. However, in the past eight games against the conference's top three teams – Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan – he has only two assists and no goals. … Rohlik did not hint which freshman goalie would start Friday. Matt Tomkins played the two games vs. Michigan after Christian Frey was between the pipes the previous seven.

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