That is precisely the situation in which the No. 19 Ohio State men's hockey team finds itself. The Buckeyes opened their home and Central Collegiate Hockey Association slates with rival Miami (Ohio), the nation's second-ranked team, Oct. 19 with a 5-1 loss, and then suffered a similar fate two days later while completing the home-and-home with the RedHawks.
For their efforts, Miami's Justin Mercier (offensive player of the week), Alec Martinez (defenseman), Jeff Zatkoff (goaltender) and Tommy Wingels (rookie) all took home the CCHA's weekly honors, this during a week in which all but one league team took to the ice.
So in the pantheon of weekends, this one left a little to be desired for the scarlet and gray. With a trip to perennial power Minnesota, who is ranked just 10th in the country after a sweep at the hands of Colorado College, on tap tonight and tomorrow night (8 p.m. both nights), the Buckeyes know something will have to change or last year's 7-2 and 6-3 blowouts at the hands of the Golden Gophers will be reprised.
"It's playing the way we know we can play," said captain Matt McIlvane. "We have to pump up our effort level a little bit. The bottom line is, if you're going to beat teams of this caliber, you have to outwork them and you have to bring your ‘A' game."
One of the major problems for the Buckeyes was their inability to play the way they would like to play. Throughout the preseason, the talk from players and head coach John Markell was that the Buckeyes wanted to be a physical, relentless team that was difficult to play against.
Against the RedHawks, McIlvane said the Buckeyes were not difficult to play against, letting Miami dictate the tempo and failing to make much of an effect physically. The Buckeyes took 24 penalties over the two games, giving Miami 15 power-play opportunities.
"What really was annoying was all the penalties when you're trying to fight back on the road," Markell said of the Oct. 21 loss. "We can't have that. You have to go in there and you have to learn how to compete. We have to definite what ‘compete' means for an Ohio State hockey team, and they're going to get that (in practice Tuesday)."
Compounding the troubles was a number of youthful mistakes, which one would expect on a team with 14 freshmen. The RedHawks blew the Friday night game open early in the second on a goal that came moments after two Buckeye clearing attempts did not leave the zone. Back in Oxford Sunday, both the first and third goals Miami scored were the result of poor turnovers.
"We were losing a lot of battles, a lot of battles that our team is accustomed to winning," said defenseman Johann Kroll, a Plymouth, Minn., native who will be playing in his home state. "Bad turnovers were costing us. It's things that we can control. It's not complex stuff. It's just winning the battles and smarter play."
Both the Buckeyes and Golden Gophers sit at 0-2 in their respective leagues (Minnesota plays in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and are 2-2 overall, as both have had similar starts. The Buckeyes opened their season with a win in the Lefty McFadden Invitational in Dayton, while Minnesota won the annual Ice Breaker Invitational in Minneapolis' Xcel Energy Center.
Both also suffered sweeps during their opening conference weekends, while neither has had much luck scoring goals. The Buckeyes have tickled the twine nine times, with senior Tommy Goebel netting two goals to serve as the only multiple-time scorer, and Minnesota has just 10 goals, with Blake Wheeler as a three-time lamp lighter.
"They're beatable," Markell said. "Colorado College found a way to frustrate them and we have to find that way. These are the types of teams you're going to have to beat at the end of the year."
Minnesota has 14 NHL draft picks and four first-rounders on its roster, while OSU has six overall draft picks and just one player in taken in the first two rounds.