OSU Icers Open NCAA Tourney Play Tonight

The OSU men's ice hockey team opens NCAA Tournament play as the two seed in the Albany, N.Y. Regional. OSU meets third-seeded Wisconsin at 8:30 p.m. (Time Warner Cable Ch. 24 in Columbus). Click this free link for more.

It is a weekend that nobody connected with Ohio State men's hockey will soon forget … but they have to.

The Buckeyes won three games in three days last weekend -- including a 4-2 decision over CCHA regular season champion Michigan -- to claim the CCHA tournament championship at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.

But OSU needs to put those memories and accomplishments aside tonight as it tackles Wisconsin in an NCAA Tournament opening round game at Albany, N.Y. The Buckeyes (26-15-0) moved all the way up to sixth in the national rankings after winning the CCHA tournament title.

OSU will enter the Albany Regional as the two seed, while Wisconsin (21-12-8) is ranked 11th nationally and comes in as the three seed. The teams meet at 8:30 p.m. tonight. The game will be televised in Columbus on Time Warner's Ch. 24. It will also be carried on WOSU-AM (820).

This marks OSU's fourth NCAA trip in seven years under head coach John Markell. But Markell, who led the Buckeyes to the 1998 Frozen Four, says his team can't take anything for granted.

"Obviously, everybody has been patting them on the back," Markell said. "But today starts a new tournament. They have to think about how they got there and the process it took, but the kids can worry about all of that stuff two or three months from now. Right now, we're concerned with the bigger picture.

"This is a two-game tournament. Hopefully, there will be another two-game tournament in two weeks. We feel good about the momentum we have built. We did beat three teams that are in the tournament last weekend."

The OSU-Wisconsin winner will play the winner of top-seeded Maine and fourth-seeded Harvard at 6 p.m. Saturday for a berth in the 2004 NCAA Frozen Four in Boston April 8-10.

Ohio State's win over Michigan ended a 32-year drought for the Buckeyes, who had not won the CCHA title since 1972. The Buckeyes, the fourth seed in the CCHA tournament, used overtime wins over No. 5 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals (6-5) and No. 2 Miami in the semifinals (4-3) before upending the top-seeded Wolverines in regulation, 4-2. OSU is the first team not based in Michigan to win the CCHA postseason title since 1988 (Bowling Green) and ends a streak of eight years in a row Michigan or Michigan State won the crown. The Wolverines won the last two titles.

"We won two games in overtime where we never led," Markell marveled. "Then, we had the stress of 14,000 people screaming for Michigan (in the championship game). This is a focused group. They understand what it takes to win at this level."

But will his team have anything left to give after such a grueling weekend?

"The word tired can not be in our vocabulary," Markell said.

During the CCHA opening round win over Notre Dame, Markell replaced senior Mike Betz in goal with sophomore Dave Caruso. Caruso rode out that game and the next two. The OSU coach seemed to be leaning toward starting Caruso against Wisconsin saying, "It's hard to change a winning lineup. He certainly played well in the last tournament."

Senior Paul Caponigri had five points in the three games at the CCHA Super Six Championship, including a goal and an assist in the title game, to earn the Bill Beagan Trophy as the tournament's MVP, the first Buckeye since Bill McKenzie in 1972 to do so. Caruso (3-0-0, 1.88 gaa), forwards Rod Pelley (2-3-5) and Caponigri and defenseman Doug Andress (2-4-6) earned all-tournament accolades. The four Buckeyes named to the all-tournament team are the first since four Buckeyes were honored in 1998 when the squad lost in the championship game to Michigan State in double overtime.

A year ago, OSU dropped its NCAA opener to Boston College 1-0. Markell was asked if there were any similarities to the 1998 squad, which fell in the CCHA tourney championship game before beating Michigan State in overtime to reach the Frozen Four.

The Buckeyes have won six straight games and 10 of their last 12 to enter this year's NCAA on a roll.

"When I think about the 1998 situation, we also had success in the CCHA tournament," he said. "We were playing pretty well at the end of the year. I'm not sure we were a year ago. We were kind of stumbling and we weren‘t scoring goals.

"This is a one-game shot. You can't worry about your special teams or your goaltending or your penalty kill and you can't worry about your systems. The guys just have to apply themselves and you just have to hope things are clicking for us."

Also Notable

* Ohio State beat three 2004 NCAA Championship qualifiers in the CCHA Super Six en route to the league title. The Buckeyes topped Midwest region No. 4 seed Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, West region No. 3 seed Miami in the semifinals and Northeast region No. 2 seed Michigan in the final.

* The Buckeyes are making their second consecutive and fourth overall trip to the NCAA tournament. The squad, which has qualified for the national tournament four of the last seven seasons, is 2-3 all-time in the national tourney, including a trip to the 1998 NCAA Frozen Four.

Here are OSU's tournament results:

2003 -- East Regional, Providence, R.I.: Boston College 1, Ohio State 0

1999 -- East Regional, Worcester, Mass.: Maine 4, Ohio State 2

1998-- West Regional, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ohio State 4, Yale 0; Ohio State 4, Michigan State 3 (OT). Frozen Four Semifinal, Boston: Boston College 5, Ohio State 2

* Ohio State is 0-8-0 all-time against Wisconsin, with all eight meeting coming between 1965-1969. Although the two schools are members of the Big Ten, they are in separate leagues in hockey. Wisconsin plays in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

* Wisconsin went 14-7-7 in the WCHA. The team was upset in three games by Alaska Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA tournament. Rene Bourque leads the team in assists (20) and points (35) and is tied for the squad lead with Ryan MacMurchy for the lead in goals with 15.

The Badgers are allowing just 2.2 goals a game, backstopped by goalie Bernd Brückler with a 2.14 goals-against average of 2.16 and a .922 save percentage in 36 games. The Badgers average 3.0 goals a game and their power play has converted 16.4 percent (33-201) of its chances on the year.

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