Buckeyes Finish Home Slate With Minnesota

Coming off a sweep of visiting Penn State and with four wins in its last six games, the Ohio State men's hockey game will finish the home slate in a big series with No. 15 Minnesota that will be on the ESPN family of networks.

As good as it felt to get the first sweep of the season last weekend with a pair of victories against Penn State in Value City Arena, Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik left the celebrating to the players for the most part.

That’s because the Buckeyes host No. 15 Minnesota on Friday and Saturday to complete the home portion of the regular season.

Rohlik said preparation for the Golden Gophers, the national runner-up in 2014 who has struggled this season until their current 7-2-1 stretch, began “probably a half hour after the game on Saturday.”

“It’s tough to win two in a row in college hockey,” Rohlik said. “It took us long enough but it’s nice to get a sweep at home and continue to build some confidence and momentum for the coming weeks.

“The guys feel good about it but you can’t feel good about it that long because you’ve got a team like (Minnesota) coming in here. They cause some very difficult situations on the ice.”

OSU (11-17-2, 6-10-0-0 Big Ten) is on a bit of a roll as well now that it is healthy for the first time this season and has won four of six after a six-game losing streak.

“This is the time of the year you want to be peaking,” senior defenseman Justin DaSilva said. “We’re playing our best hockey right now. Hopefully, we can continue that this weekend.”

It won’t be easy against the Gophers (18-11-3, 9-4-3-0) but the Buckeyes have the added motivation of trying to get a win Saturday for eight seniors in their home finale.

“I’m sure it’s going to be pretty emotional,” senior forward Nick Oddo said. “It’s gone by so fast.”

He was part of a 12-member freshman class that started its careers with a 12-1-1 record, first place in the now defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association and a No. 2 ranking in the polls by the Christmas break.

They came crashing back to earth in the second-half under then-coach Mark Osiecki and the Buckeyes went 1-11-4 the rest of the way.

Osiecki was fired and replaced by his assistant Rohlik after the group’s sophomore season.

“I’m going through the past four years and how it’s gone,” Oddo said. “I’m thinking about some of the memories and that it will be the last time I get to play with the guys in my class.”

Of the original dozen from class, Ben Gallacher and Riley Simpson transferred and forwards Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick signed with the Ottawa Senators organization after last season.

“That’s tough to deal with losing Zings and Max this year,” Oddo said.

The games against Minnesota are attracting eyeballs for several reasons. Each will be televised nationally, necessitating starting times different than the normal 7 p.m.

Friday’s is at 5 p.m. on ESPNU. The game Saturday is 6 p.m. on ESPNews.

Some focus will be on three Golden Gophers players who are draft picks of the Columbus Blue Jackets, in particular Mike Reilly.

The 6-1, 182 pound junior is considered one of the top defensemen in the country and he was an All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season. He leads the team with 37 points, including six goals.

A fourth-round pick (98th overall) in 2011 NHL draft, Reilly may turn pro after this season. Many from the Columbus staff will be at the game Friday and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is already touting Reilly as a possible cornerstone for the franchise.

“We have some prospects that can play a big role for us in the future,” he said March 2. “Mike Reilly is having a great year in Minnesota and he’s a great prospect we believe in that can fill some big shoes in our organization. We look forward to getting him signed.”

The other Blue Jackets’ draftees are freshman defenseman Ryan Collins (2014, 47th) and senior forward Seth Ambroz (2011, 128th).

“They have some very good forwards but they beat you up with their D because their D can get up and down the rink,” Rohlik said. “They’re just relentless as far as puck skill and puck possession.”

Minnesota is second in the Big Ten, three points behind Michigan with four games left. The top two teams get byes into the semifinals of the conference tournament March 19-21 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Gophers are two points ahead of Michigan State.

The Buckeyes are fifth and likely not moving anywhere in the standings the final two weeks. They trail Penn State by seven points but are eight ahead of last-place Wisconsin.

“We know we’re not going to win the league but what we can control is getting better,” Rohlik said. “If we keep getting better and win some games, that’s momentum and that’s a good thing this time of the year.”

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