Their lasting memory from March 22 was of being an exhausted team watching Wisconsin celebrate an overtime victory against the Buckeyes in the inaugural Big Ten tournament title game in Minneapolis.
OSU was a decided underdog entering the tourney and needed to win it to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes were six minutes away from accomplishing that dream scenario, which included defeating top-ranked Minnesota the night before in a semifinal matchup, but squandered a two-goal lead to the No. 6 Badgers before the crushing 5-4 defeat.
Although many months have passed the sting lingers, but there are also other more positive emotions.
“It’s very fresh in everyone’s minds,” junior defenseman and co-captain Sam Jardine said. “It’s kept us focused and motivated throughout the summer.”
The message from second-year head coach Steve Rohlik was that the Buckeyes were their own worst enemy because a slow start doomed them from having a chance to make the NCAA tournament without a conference title.
OSU opened with three straight losses and finished 18-14-5 overall and 6-9-5 for fourth place in the Big Ten.
“Coach showed us that if we would have won a couple of more games we would have been in the (NCAA) tournament,” sophomore forward Nick Schilkey said.
Despite the title game loss to the Badgers, Ohio State was buoyed by its performance in the conference tournament when the Buckeyes beat Michigan State, 2-1, in overtime then stunned the Gophers, 3-1.
“Our role is to pick up right where we left off,” Jardine said. “We admittedly had a slow start and it cost us. We maybe could have been in a position where we didn’t have to win the Big Ten tournament to get in the NCAA tournament. We kind of wanted to bottle that emotion up. We’re pretty angry the way things happened and a little heartbroken.”
The Buckeyes also suffered losses of another variety when forwards Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick each decided to forego their final season of eligibility this year to sign with the Ottawa Senators.
Dzingel led the Big Ten in scoring with 46 points, including 22 goals, and was one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. McCormick was second on the team with 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points. Replacing their points won’t be easy.
“They’re two great players, unique in their own ways,” senior co-captain Tanner Fritz said. “We have a lot of good freshmen coming in, some good underclassmen. There are good opportunities for others to step up and have big years.”
The forward was the Buckeyes’ third-leading scorer (8-24-32) last season despite missing five early-season games with an injury. Rohlik expects him to be one of the players who will try to take up the slack offensively.
“We’ve got some capable guys,” the coach said. “Tanner Fritz led the (now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association) in scoring two years ago. We’ve got Schilkey. He had a great second half. Darik Angeli had nine goals last year. Nick Oddo is back.”
In fact, the senior Oddo and Schilkey were the fourth and fifth scorers for the Buckeyes, who were 14th in NCAA scoring at 3.19 goals per game.
“We’re not truly going to fill the hole that Max and Ryan left with one individual or two,” Rohlik said. “What we have to do is fill that with four lines that are playing every night. That’s the kind of team I see us being. We’re going to have a lot of guys scoring eight goals. “I don’t think you’ll see (a candidate) for the Hobey. We lost a lot of offense with those two guys. The question is who’s going to step up?”
At least the Buckeyes, who enter the season receiving votes and are two spots out of the USCHO.com top 20 poll, should be solid defensively with the most noticeable departure being last year’s captain Curtis Gedig, a defenseman who used up his eligibility.
The Buckeyes’ strength is in goal where there is depth and talent starting with sophomore Christian Frey, who joined the team from junior hockey last December and became one of the top goalies in the league. Sophomore Matt Tomkins earlier in the season won the starting job before being injured and never got it back.
“We’ve got two big-time goalies.” Rohlik said. “We’re going to see how it plays out. Both guys give us a chance to win. That’s all I’m asking for. You’re going to see both guys play a lot of games.”
The blueline likewise is deep, led by Jardine and sophomore Drew Brevig, who led all OSU defensemen with 17 points (3-14) and was plus-16 on the plus/minus ledger.
“We want to be strong defensively and really take pride in our own end because whenever we do that it’s going to lead to great chances at the other end,” he said.
Brevig, Frey and Schilkey took half of the places on last year’s Big Ten All-Freshman team and the trio, along with Fritz, was named as players to watch for the 2014-15 season by the Big Ten coaches. Only Minnesota (five) had more picks on the 16-player team.
“It’s a fair assessment right now,” Rohlik said. “Minnesota, on paper, to me is the best team in the country. Michigan looks pretty strong then you throw the rest of us in a hat. You look at Penn State. They lost 13 or 14 one-goal games last year. They didn’t lose any (players).”
Ohio State has 19 returning letter winners including nine forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies. There are seven freshmen (five forwards and two defensemen) and junior defenseman Blake Doerring, who is eligible for the first time after transferring from Vermont. Whoever is in the lineup, the message to them is clear.
“You want to put yourself in a good situation going into the (Big Ten) tournament,” Fritz said. “You never want to leave it in someone else’s hands. If we can have a better start of the year, it can be something we can build on. Hopefully we can get ourselves ranked before the Big Ten tournament starts.”
A look at the 2014-15 Buckeyes by position follows.
While Rohlik expects there to be scoring by committee, there has to someone at the head of the table and it should be Fritz. As sophomore he had 37 points (11-26), including 32 in league play to pace the CCHA, and this past July he attended the Chicago Blackhawks’ development camp.
“I want to leave here with no regrets,” he said. “I don’t want to leave anything out there my final year and make sure this team gets to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Oddo, a senior, had a breakout last season. After garnering 17 points (seven goals) his first two seasons, he had 30 points (9-21) as a junior and established himself as one of the top defensive players in the country. His plus-23 rating was first on the team, second in the Big Ten and 15th in the NCAA.
The other Nick, Schilkey, also made a name for himself his first go around. He was sixth in Big Ten rookie scoring and 20th nationally for freshmen with 26 points (13-13), and he spent the summer getting ready for the rigors of conference play.
“You have to get into the physical battles in college hockey,” he said. “You can’t just sit on the edges and not get in the corners. It’s more of a grind than junior hockey. I knew I had to get stronger because the college game is so fast and physical.”
Junior Anthony Greco and senior Darik Angeli each has shown moments of brilliance but overall lacked consistency. Greco was voted the most improved player on the team last season when he recorded 15 points (5-10) in 33 games after an injury-filled freshman season limited him to 20 games and 11 points (5-11).
Angeli had nine goals last season, two shy of his total the first two seasons, and added four assists while playing 36 of 37 games. His goals weren’t wasted, either. Angeli had the winner vs. Wisconsin on Feb. 14, an empty-netter to clinch a victory at Wisconsin on Jan. 25 and the third-period tying goal vs. Michigan State on Jan. 11.
The other returnees are seniors Matt Johnson and Chad Niddery, junior Tyler Lundey and sophomore David Gust. Johnson had a career game Feb. 8 at Michigan State when he scored both goals in a 2-2 tie. He also had a goal and an assist vs. Robert Morris on Oct. 25. Johnson in 96 career games has 23 points (13-10).
Niddery had a goal and four points in 49 games his first two years but last season netted four goals and four assists in 33 games. In two games vs. Michigan at the end of the season he totaled three assists and was a plus-3.
Lundey was another player who made timely contributions among his 12 points (5-7) last season. He potted a goal and assisted on the winner in the 2-1 victory against Wisconsin on Feb. 14 and assisted on the winning tally vs. Minnesota in the Big Ten semifinal March 21.
Gust – whose sister, Kara, is a redshirt senior defenseman on the OSU women’s team – recorded six goals and four assists. One of his goals was shorthanded at Wisconsin on Jan. 25. His Buckeyes’ debut Oct. 29 resulted in a goal and an assist vs. Bowling Green.
“We’re a high-paced team,” Fritz said. “We do all the little things right as a team. We’re not going to be the flashy team all the time. We’re going to play all the zones equally.” Rohlik expects the five freshman forwards to deepen the lineup.
Nicholas Jones of Edmonton, Alberta, played two years with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He led the AJHL in scoring with 41 goals, including 16 on the power play. Jones added 31 assists to finish third in league scoring.
Christian Lampasso hails from Amherst, N.Y., and played last season for Lincoln in the United States Hockey League where he had 40 points (16-24) with 76 penalty minutes in 57 games. He previously played for the Detroit Honeybaked Hockey Club for three years with Schilkey.
Kevin Miller comes to Columbus from the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons (AJHL). The Stony Plain, Alberta, native was third on the team with 54 points (21-33) in 56 games in the regular season and was the Oil Barons’ playoff points leader with 10 goals and seven assists in 17 games.
Luke Stork hails from the fertile proving ground of Pittsburgh. He went to Youngstown, Ohio, the past two seasons to play for the Phantoms of the USHL. His combined totals were 28 goals, 19 assists and 57 points in 128 games.
Matthew Weis, from Freehold, N.J., played the past two seasons for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and won a championship with Schilkey in 2012. Weis had 57 points (23-34) last season and posted 40 points, including 13 goals, the previous season.
“I’ m a good two-way forward,” he said. “I can win draws. I see the ice pretty well. I have a good hockey IQ.”
The frosh five range from 5-foot-10 to 6-feet and none weight more than 192 pounds. “They’re small but they’re fast,” Fritz said. “They all work extremely hard.”
Added Rohlik, “They can all contribute. It’s not necessarily that they come in and score 20 goals. We need their energy and I think we’ve got some kids that can fill some different voids for us.
“We’ve got five lines that can play. You’re going to see guys in and out of the lineup. We have good competition. That’s healthy.”
Brevig capped his rookie season by being named to the all-tournament team. The Minnesota native scored the overtime winner in his home state vs. Michigan State in the quarterfinals, posted an assist and was plus-1 vs. Minnesota the semifinals and contributed an assist and was plus-3 in the loss to Wisconsin in the final.
For the season his 17 points led all Big Ten freshman defensemen, but he is looking for consistency in year two.
“I learned a lot last year. The coaching staff really taught me how to play the position,” he said. “Sometimes I would not be as defensively strong as I wanted. I got a lot better last year and that led to being better offensively.”
There’s an experienced group to complement Brevig starting with Jardine, who was second in defenseman scoring with his first career goal March 2 vs. Michigan and 12 assists in 36 games his sophomore season.
Jardine, a sixth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, attended their development camp over the summer with Brevig, Fritz and Tomkins.
He said being named a co-captain in voting by his teammates is an honor.
“It’s something that I take very seriously and personally,” he said. “It doesn’t change what I bring to the team as far as attitude and work ethic. I still try to be the best teammate I can be.”
The senior defensemen are Clark Cristofoli, Justin DaSilva and Al McLean. DaSilva (6-6, 215) takes up a lot of space and led the NCAA last season with 2.74 shot blocks per game. He also had four goals and 10 points in 31 games after having just a goal and six assists in 64 games his first two seasons.
McLean, a stay at home D-man, had one assist in 31 games last season and two helpers his previous season but was an honorable mention for the CCHA’s all-rookie team when he scored three times and earned eight assists in 31 games in 2012.
Cristofoli, who grew up in the Columbus suburb of Lewis Center, has appeared in 25 games over three seasons. Entering the Big Ten championship game vs. Wisconsin his career offensive output was four assists but he produced a goal and an assist vs. the Badgers in the biggest game of the season replacing the injured DaSilva.
Besides Jardine, the other returning junior is Craig Dalrymple. Another big blueliner (6-5, 210), he had six assists in 14 games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury Jan. 17 vs. Minnesota. He garnered 17 points (3-14) in 40 games as a freshman.
Josh Healey is the other sophomore on the defense. The Edmonton native played 33 games with a goal against Canisius on Nov. 15 and four assists.
Doerring will have two years of eligibility remaining after the native of Chanhassen, Minn., played two seasons at Vermont. He played 29 games for the Catamounts as a freshman with a goal and three assists but was limited to four games the next season because of injuries.
Both of the freshman defensemen have roots overseas. Swedish-born Victor Björkung is a 6-1, 177-pound blueliner who played the past two seasons in the USHL. He posted 19 points (six goals) for the Chicago Steel last season after dressing in 26 games for the Fargo Force in 2012-13.
Janik Möser played for Germany in the past two World Junior Championships but also was in the USHL last season. The 5-11, 191 pound player was credited with 15 points (3-12) in 47 games with Muskegon.
What Rohlik is most hoping for from the position is no drama after last season’s craziness. To recap: Sophomore Collin Olson began the season as the starter only to be supplanted by freshman Matt Tomkins. Olson left the program Nov. 3 but Tomkins was injured six days later and would be out until January.
That left freshman walk-on Logan Davis from the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington to take over for the next five games and Rohlik added Aaron Gretz, a catcher on the Ohio State baseball team, and OSU club hockey goalie Aaron Kahn as backups for Davis on a temporary basis. Davis played admirably as a fill-in.
Enter Frey from Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. He played 16 of the final 19 games (9-4-3 with 2.27 goals against average) and was eighth in the nation with a .929 save percentage.
“I came up a couple of days before Christmas to practice,” Frey said. “My first game was before school started. It was pretty hectic. I didn’t really know what was going on. I was going with the flow. Once I got settled in and started doing classes it was easy enough.
“It was a new level of hockey. Going straight from junior hockey to Big Ten play in one of the best conferences in the nation was unbelievable.”
Tomkins appeared in 17 games, starting 15 (6-7-2, 2.78 GAA, .911 save percentage). He had a career-high 39 saves Nov. 2 vs. Minnesota Duluth.
Davis was 3-2-0, giving the Buckeyes three freshman goalies with wins, and had a 2.21 GAA with a .909 save percentage. He stopped 22 shots for his first career shutout Nov. 15 against Canisius. Jardine is happy to have all three.
“Christian Frey is one of the Big Ten’s players to watch,” he said. “Matty Tomkins is an unbelievable prospect in all of college hockey and even with Logan Davis, the hometown kid, who in a couple of games when we needed him, he played very well.
“We have three goalies who are very good and are going to battle for the crease. They’re very mature about that. They’re all good friends and our team will only benefit from that healthy competition.”
The Big Ten
It’s turn back the clock this year as the second-year conference will play its postseason tournament March 19-21 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, site for three decades of the CCHA’s tournament.
Ohio State made the “Road to the Joe” the final season of 2013 by reaching the semifinals before losing to Notre Dame.
“It’s a great rink,” Fritz said. “I know a lot of guys haven’t been there. It’s old but it’s got a lot of history to it.”
Minnesota was the tourney favorite last season at home in the Xcel Energy Center but was upset by the Buckeyes. The Gophers rebounded to reach the NCAA Frozen Four and lost the championship game to Union.
The Gophers enter this season as USCHO's top-ranked team led by second-team All-America goalie Adam Wilcox, who posted a 1.88 GAA last season with a school-record .932 save percentage.
“I think our constant was Adam Wilcox,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “He gave us a chance to win, and we had a pretty deep lineup last year.”
Minnesota also has first-team All-America defenseman Mike Reilly, a Columbus Blue Jackets draftee who led all Big Ten blue liners with 33 points (9-24).
Michigan looks to challenge the Gophers in the 31st season of head coach Red Berenson. Junior Andrew Copp, who led the Wolverines with 15 goals, and sophomore JT Compher, their points leader with 31, were unanimous selections to the players to watch list.
“He plays both ends,” Berenson said of Compher. “He works just as hard defensively as he does offensively, but for him to take the next step, I think it's just putting a finishing touch on everything,”
Wisconsin will try to defend its tournament title despite 11 freshmen but the Badgers do have senior goalie Joel Rumpel, a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season. He was 21-6-1 and had a sterling 2.07 GAA.
The Badgers lost their top five scorers so coach Mike Eaves, much like Rohlik, is looking for some young players to step up.
“A lot of pine trees got chopped down in the forest and a lot of these saplings are going to have a chance to grow with the sun being on them,” Eaves said.
Michigan State, picked for fifth in the conference, returns 20 players from last season’s 11-18-7 team for coach Tom Anastos. Junior goalie Mike Hildebrand (9-15-7, 2.44, .923) and junior forward Michael Ferrantino (9-11-20) return.
Penn State, in its second season at the Division I level, was 8-26-2 overall and 3-16-1 in the Big Ten but upset third-seeded Michigan, 2-1, in the tournament quarterfinals. The Nittany Lions return 24 players.
“We certainly improved greatly, and I think the biggest factor to that was we played such great hockey teams night in and night out in the Big Ten,” PSU coach Guy Gadowsky.
The Buckeyes open a difficult schedule by hosting No. 3 Providence tonight and tomorrow at Value City Arena. That’s followed by two games vs. No. 11 Miami, the first Oct. 17 at VCA with the second leg the next night in Oxford.
There are other ranked teams highlighted by a possible matchup against Union at the Shillelagh Tournament at Notre Dame on Nov. 28-29. The Buckeyes play Western Michigan in the weekend opener and will then face either No. 5 Union or the No. 12-ranked hosts.
OSU also has four games apiece against No. 1 Minnesota, No. 8 Michigan and No. 10 Wisconsin in the league schedule. The 20-game Big Ten schedule opens with home games Nov. 20-21 vs. Michigan State.