Icers Hope Big Crowd Spurs Rebirth

The Ohio State hockey team hasn't had a lot go right during the 2007-08 season, but the stage is set this weekend for some fun. The Buckeyes welcome the defending national champions, Michigan State, to town along with the specter of good crowds and the chance at a personal milestone.

The thought of it does bring a smile to Tommy Goebel's face.

It's not that the senior forward for the Ohio State hockey team has any ill will for his old squad, he only wants to reach a career milestone and help the Buckeyes get a win or two. So if Goebel, who currently has 98 points in his collegiate career, reaches the century club this Friday or Saturday in Value City Arena during a two-game set with No. 6 Michigan State, the place where he started his college career, so be it.

"Yeah, that would be great," Goebel said with a grin. "A couple goals – that would be great."

The Buckeyes would surely appreciate the help. Ohio State, with 14 games remaining, sits in 10th place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association with a 3-10-1 league record (7-15-2 overall) for seven points. The Buckeyes sit six points behind Ferris State and Alaska for eighth place, the last home spot when it comes to the league playoffs.

On the other hand is Michigan State, which is fourth in the CCHA with a 10-2-2 record. The defending national champions are coming off of a three-point weekend against fellow top-10 team Notre Dame, and their two games against the Buckeyes are just six of the 14 league contests the Scarlet and Gray will play against top-10 squads.

With Ferris State on pace for 26 points and Alaska on pace for 23, OSU figures to need around 16 points in the 14 games to have a shot at home ice in the first round, meaning it would behoove OSU to start compiling points.

"You really want to give yourself the opportunity to have home ice advantage, especially talking about possibly traveling to Alaska," junior Corey Elkins said. "That's a big goal to get home ice advantage for the playoffs."

Michigan State will bring with them plenty of firepower at all portions of the ice. Leading scorer Tim Kennedy has potted team highs of 13 goals and 25 assists, but the junior has just two goals in his last 11 games. Eight other Spartans have five or more goals, and nine total MSU players have 10 or more assists. In net, junior Jeff Lerg is 13-5-4 with a .917 save percentage and is the reigning CCHA player of the week.

A year ago on the way to the NCAA Frozen Four title, Lerg stood out, allowing just five goals in four NCAA tourney games. Current Spartans Kennedy, Mueller and Justin Abdelkader scored goals in the title game win over Boston College.

"I think they also scare us, which they should, and that should draw the best out of us," head coach John Markell said. "They've got everything: great goaltending, good defense, good forwards. They're big and strong and they can move the puck."

The other thing Michigan State will bring with them is a crowd. Ohio State faced Michigan and Minnesota on the road earlier this year and a later series against Notre Dame will take place in South Bend's Joyce Center. The Buckeyes instead have had home games against the likes of Nebraska-Omaha, Ferris State and St. Lawrence, not exactly schools that bring in a crowd.

This weekend should be different, as Ohio State expects a large crowd in Value City Arena. So far, the Buckeyes' biggest showing in VCA was 4,298 for the Ohio Hockey Classic first-round game against Harvard Dec. 29, a number they hope to dwarf this weekend.

"I don't think the freshmen have been able to see what it's usually like for us here," Goebel said. "They'll get a great opportunity to see what it's like with a great atmosphere here and the fans behind us. It should be great."

And if those fans are lucky, they'll see Goebel reach his milestone. So far, the diminutive senior from Parma, Ohio, has 45 points (23 goals, 22 helpers) in a year and a half at Ohio State after a 21-32-53 line in two years at Michigan State where he started his career.

Should he get two more this weekend to reach the century club, he'll join teammate and childhood friend Tom Fritsche, who reached the mark during the late-December Ohio Hockey Classic, and do so against the team he started his career with.

This will be the second time Goebel plays against his old mates. Last year, Ohio State split in East Lansing's Munn Ice Arena but Goebel did not have a point.

"He certainly didn't play very well up there," Markell said. "We played well as a team but he had a miserable time. He was so nervous. I felt bad for the kid. Every time he touched the puck they would boo him."

The Sparty faithful would say they got the better of the equation, considering that MSU won a national title in what would have been Goebel's senior year, but he said he's more than happy having transferred to his home-state school. He wouldn't mind a good showing this time around against the Green and White, though.

"It was fun (last year)," he said. "They're great fans up there and everything like that, but they gave me a hard time. I figured it would be like that, but it's good to have them come down here."

Friday night's faceoff is at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday's is at 7:35. Ohio State makes its Big Ten Network debut on Friday night, and the OSU athletic band will perform Script Ohio between periods in the series opener.

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