Hockey: Home Slate Ending For Calendar Year

Ohio State has been playing some pretty good hockey of late, proving the old axiom that things can only go up once they hit rock bottom. Since a home loss to Robert Morris, the Buckeyes are playing a better game that includes simple benchmarks and stronger motivation.

During his team's well-documented 11-game unbeaten streak that lasted more than a month, Ohio State hockey head coach John Markell stated on numerous times that he had stripped the game down to the bare essentials in an effort to get his team out of its funk.

The Buckeyes were left with simple tasks to complete when on the ice. When in the offensive zone, the directive was shoot the puck. On defense, it was to clear the zone as quickly and forcefully as possible. No matter where on the ice, the goal was to outhit the opposition.

To drive home those points, five goals were given to the members of the squad. Those included winning the faceoff battle, keeping the opposition under 25 shots per game, putting more than 30 pucks on net per game, outhitting the opposition and winning the special teams battle.

On a team with as many freshmen – 14 – as the other three classes combined, such a decision apparently worked wonders. The Buckeyes have played four solid games in a row now heading into this weekend's Friday-Saturday series in Value City Arena against St. Lawrence, the Buckeyes final home series before the Christmas break.

"All we did was simplify our game," captain Matt McIlvane said. "If you're not winning games, the only way to get better is just to get back to basics, simplify. That's all we did. I think we had some success with it and I think that makes people buy into it."

The latter portion of McIlvane's statement might shine some light on why the Buckeyes (4-11-1) have started a turnaround that included a split on the road at Western Michigan Nov. 23-24 and another two points earned at No. 2 Michigan last weekend.

The team had been going simple for a while before the wins started to come, but the message appeared to not be reaching the mark. Finally, after a lackluster 4-3 loss to Robert Morris at home Nov. 18, Markell sat the team down and forced the players to point out who was working hard and who was not. At the same time, it was made clear that the mistakes that had been happening could not go on.

The message was obvious: accountability would be enforced at every moment. Immediately, play began to pick up.

"We held them accountable before, but we've been holding them more accountable to measurable points – shots on net, stuff like that," Markell said. "We're getting a little more defined on what they're doing while they're on the ice and how they're doing it and hold them accountable for that."

Once that happened, McIlvane's point about the good play breeding success seems to have kicked in. A team that for weeks just needed something to go right has all of a sudden found something positive on which to lean.

"It's second nature," McIlvane said. "We have something to build from now. We have tools for success and we just have to use them."

With the Saints coming to town for 7:05 p.m. faceoffs both nights, the Buckeyes will try to continue their better play and earn some important nonconference momentum as well. And with the way the team has been playing, the focus will be on their own game rather than what the Saints (5-7-3), led by junior forwards Kevin DeVergilio (4-7-11) and Casey Parenteau (7-3-10), will bring.

"I think it's huge that we're playing our style of game," McIlvane said. "I think we need to be playing simple, physical and just doing all the little things right in the game."

Palmer Earns USA Call-Up: For many players, the chance to represent their country in their chosen sport is the apex of competition. For Ohio State goaltender Joseph Palmer, it is no different.

Palmer is one of two goaltenders who will be a part of the United States team that will play in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Pardubice and Liberec, Czech Republic.

Palmer will be joined on the squad at the goaltender spot by Jeremy Smith, a Brownstown, Mich., native who plays for Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League.

A native of Yorkville, N.Y., Palmer previous spent two years as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program, living in Ann Arbor, Mich., and suiting up for the national Under-18 and U-17 teams during both international competition and as part of their barnstorming tours. That stint with USA Hockey included gold medals in each the 2005 and '06 IIHF U-18 championships.

"I was fortunate to be able to put that (USA sweater) on every day for two years with the national team," he said. "There's nothing like going back with all your buddies and all the guys that you've known for a long time and putting that sweater back on and representing your country."

Palmer will miss Ohio State's games in the Ohio Hockey Classic Dec. 29-30 and against Alaska Jan. 4-5 while on international duty. The Americans will be attempting to regain the gold they last won in 2004.

The last Buckeye take part in the festivities was Tom Fritsche in 2006. Other former Buckeyes to play in the tournament are current NHLers Ryan Kesler, R.J. Umberger and Dave Steckel.

Home Not Cookin': Ohio State will be attempting to break a 0-6 home record against St. Lawrence that includes sweeps at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha and Ferris State and single-game losses to Robert Morris and Miami (Ohio).

"It's kind of a stab in the heart," McIlvane said. "That hurts. You need to win home games as a college hockey player."

The Buckeyes are 2-5 in away games and 2-0-1 on neutral ice.

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