Surging Icers Take Act To Cleveland

Gaining some steam, the Ohio State hockey bandwagon takes its show on the road to Cleveland for a Saturday game in Quicken Loans Arena against Robert Morris. The Buckeyes, who feature three team members from the Forest City area, hope to continue a run during which they've won six of seven games.

One would expect a hockey head coach to be happy after his team earns a two-game sweep against a ranked opponent.

That's not exactly the thought Ohio State head coach John Markell had after his team won two one-goal games with late scores last weekend in Value City Arena against No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha.

The Buckeye head man was happy to see his team earn four points to move into a tie for third in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, but he didn't think that it played to its potential.

After the second game, a 3-2 win Saturday during which the Buckeyes rescued themselves after being down 2-0 entering the final stanza, Markell said his team was beaten in three-and-a-half of the six periods but still came out with the victories.

Wednesday, he said that while winning close games during which the team doesn't always play its best is important, there are some steps the team has to take to get where he wants it to be.

"I think we can compete harder," Markell said. "We competed hard at the right time, but we're tempting fate by not coming out there and being consistent."

Being consistent was always going be difficult for the 2008-09 Buckeyes, who have compiled an 8-6-1 record and 6-5-1-1 mark in CCHA play. The team has just two seniors and three juniors, and only leading scorer Corey Elkins is among the top 15 on the team in points.

As a result, Markell has often said he's not sure which team he's going to get from period to period. That started during the opening weekend, when the Buckeyes posted a win over rival Miami (Ohio) in the first-ever CCHA shootout to start the year before a 7-3 loss on the RedHawks' ice a night later.

The inconsistencies have continued right through the weekend against Nebraska-Omaha. The Buckeyes started like a house afire in the opener, grabbing a 2-0 lead through one period and outshooting the Mavericks 18-7. They ended up on the short end of the shot chart and needed the first career goal by sophomore C.J. Severyn to earn a 4-3 win. A night later, they gave up 40 shots to the Mavericks during the final two periods but escaped with the win.

So even as the Buckeyes have won six of seven to get off to their best start in four years, the youngsters don't seem to be dripping with overconfidence.

"Both of our games this weekend were come from behind, so we have a lot to work on," said sophomore John Albert, who scored the game-tying and winning goals during the second game against UNO. "I don't think there's overconfidence by any means. We just have to stick to the game plan and execute. We've been coming back, which is great, but that can't last the whole season."

Next up is a trip to Cleveland on Saturday to play Robert Morris, a team the Buckeyes defeated in mid-November by a 4-0 score, in Quicken Loans Arena. Despite the victory in the game played at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, the Buckeyes were outplayed and outshot by a nearly 2-1 margin.

"We know Robert Morris outworked us last game, and we tempted fate there but (goaltender) Dusty (Carlson) played really, really well and gave us an opportunity to win the game," Markell said. "You can't do that. We're picking up tape of what they're doing wrong. They're just vacating their minds a little bit and they have to get back into the process of what makes us successful."

One of the major reasons the Buckeyes have been able to go on a hot streak is the play of Carlson between the pipes. Carlson credits his improvement to off-ice work that includes skating drills and mental preparation, and he's used that help to win both the CCHA player of the month honor and the BSB Varsity Club Icer of the Month as well.

"He earned it," Markell said. "He deserves it. He's been the cornerstone of our success back there."

The Forest Lake, Minn., native was 6-1 with a 1.47 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage. He posted three shutouts.

Cleveland Rocks
Ohio State chose to move its half of the home and home series with Robert Morris to Cleveland for a simple reason: money.

The Lake Erie Monsters, a member of the AHL and the top farm team of the Colorado Avalanche, paid the program to move Saturday's game from Columbus to Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena. The Monsters, who have former Buckeye Tom Fritsche on the squad, wanted to bring college hockey to Cleveland, and they have paired the game between Ohio State and Robert Morris, which starts at 4 p.m., with that evening's game with league rival Iowa.

There are a couple of added side benefits to the trip up I-71, however. One is that the Buckeyes get some recruiting exposure in the Cleveland area, which is one of the top areas for hockey in the state of Ohio.

In addition, the Buckeye players from the Cleveland area get to return home to play in front of friends and family. Three such Buckeyes fit the bill, as Albert hails from Concord, defenseman Chris Reed is from Solon and defenseman Nick Biondo is from Parma.

"I have not ever played there before," Albert said. "I've gone to see a couple of Cavs games there. I watched LeBron play. His games are probably a little more exciting than ours, but it's going to be a great experience. I have a lot of family coming to the game, so they'll support me really well."

The players in question said Wednesday that the coaching staff had not yet talked to them about the perils of playing in front of a hometown crowd, but such a talk could be in the cards. Players often tend to try to do too much to please the home fans, leading to a few bumps in the road. The major example cited by Markell is one of current Columbus Blue Jacket R.J. Umberger, who never seemed to play well as a Buckeye when the team would return to his hometown of Pittsburgh.

More recently, a player like Sergio Somma, a sophomore winger, has returned home to Pittsburgh to play in Mellon each of the past two years, and Somma has left without a point each time.

The other Buckeyes who don't often get to return home have taken notice, though, of the opportunities afforded to some of their teammates by scheduling.

"I don't really get jealous of the Pittsburgh guys, per se," Reed joked as he sported his Cleveland roots all the way down to the Cleveland Barons junior hockey jacket he wore at interviews, "but I know it was really nice for them to go home. Now I'm getting to go home, so it's pretty good."

Both Reed and Albert have been in the lineup for much of the season, but Biondo has played in just four games and has not suited up for the last seven. Markell said there is a chance his senior could play Saturday.

"We're watching him in practice to see how he reacts, but I think there's a little jump in his step," Markell said. "He's excited going back to his hometown his senior year."

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