The Buckeyes' final two-game home series of the year takes place tonight and tomorrow night when OSU (9-20-3, 5-15-2 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) hosts Northern Michigan at Value City Arena. After tomorrow night's game, the Buckeyes will host their senior night festivities in which eight players will be honored.
Any senior night makes it clear that something will soon be coming to an end, and for a team in 11th place and one spot out of last place in the league, that isn't always a pleasant reality. However, the Buckeyes still, to a certain extent, hold their destiny in their hands.
As OSU jockeys for position in the league, it would be a longshot to think the Buckeyes could jump into eighth place in the CCHA, the final spot that hosts a first-round playoff series. But NMU (12-15-3, 9-11-2) is one of the teams holding that last spot, and with a sweep Ohio State is at least still in the conversation when it comes to the home-ice discussion.
"It's kind of surreal, but I haven't really given it too much thought yet," senior Kyle Hood said of the senior ceremonies on the horizon. "We need these points this weekend. It's a big weekend for us."
But when the weekend does come to an end, there's no escaping the fact that defensemen Jason DeSantis and Johann Kroll, forwards Hood, John Dingle, Tom Fritsche, Tommy Goebel and Matt McIlvane, and goaltender Phil Lauderdale will be honored by the program. Even though the Buckeyes have one following home game – which will come Tuesday, Feb. 26, against Miami (Ohio) – the emotions will be high following the Saturday night game.
Hood said his mother and sister, who live in British Columbia, will be down to see him. McIlvane, an Illinois native, said he expects to have 25 people in the stands to see him.
"It's going to be a tough night for us," the OSU captain said. "But we still have another game against Miami, so it's not our last hurrah here, but all of my family is going to be in town so it's going to be a pretty special night for me."
The 2007-08 campaign has been a tough one for the senior class as a whole. Head coach John Markell has been critical of the group at times, and the stat sheet bears out that some of the players have struggled.
That's not the case with Goebel, who leads the team with 18 goals and 29 points on the year. However, the next leading scorer, Fritsche, is a team-worst minus-18. DeSantis has 15 points but is also minus-15, and McIlvane equals his plus-minus rating but has 14 points on the year. Hood was in and out of the lineup as a defenseman before coming on of late as a forward, and Dingle has just four points and is minus-10.
"I think the seniors have been trying to find themselves," Markell said. "Obviously we have a huge senior class. We need to get some scoring out of the seniors. We need good defensive play out of guys like Dingle. They have to fill their roles, and we're defining their roles as we speak."
If the Buckeyes fill those roles well, history should be on their side. The Wildcats have never won in Value City Arena in six tries and were swept out of the building last year when Ohio State won 3-2 and 4-1 contests on Feb. 9-10. However, NMU returned to Columbus in the playoffs and won a best-of-three series two games to one last March 2-4 at the OSU Ice Rink.
One of the Buckeyes' major problems on the year has been inconsistency from one game to the next, but Hood said he expects his classmates to bring it every game.
"I think there's going to be a lot of emotion this weekend and down the home stretch here coming into the playoffs," Hood said. "We have such a big group of seniors, there's going to be a lot of emotion in every game. You don't know. This could be somebody's last kick of the can."