Icers To Be Tested By Bentley

Things have been going well for the Ohio State hockey team, but there's no doubt that this week is a test. Fresh off of final exams and riding a four-game winning streak, the Buckeyes must keep their focus enough to end the first half on a high note this weekend during a two-game series with visiting Bentley.

This is a week of tests for the Ohio State men's hockey team both on and off the ice.

In the classroom, the Buckeyes are going through finals week, a time during which head coach John Markell always is uneasy.

"Our job is to not cheat the game here this weekend," he said. "There's no easy way to do that during an exam week. Hopefully the guys have the energy to get it done."

The Buckeyes will be trying to finish up the schedule for the opening half on a high note this weekend against Bentley during games Friday and Saturday night in Value City Arena.

Not only would good results keep alive Ohio State's streak of four straight wins and seven triumphs in eight games, it would help the Buckeyes get closer to a national ranking and up their standing in the PairWise rankings that determine postseason berths. Nonconference record always plays a major part in the PairWise rankings, and Ohio State could like to continue to improve on a 3-1 nonleague mark that includes a win at then-No. 2 Denver.

The recent run of good form has spirits up among the Ohio State team – and it might not be a coincidence that good play and good spirits go hand in hand.

"I think we're jelling as a team," said freshman Zac Dalpe, the team's leading goal-scorer. "The biggest thing is we're bonding in the dressing room. We're pretty close. I think that's a key when you want to start winning games is guys stick together on and off the ice. It's going well."

That togetherness has helped the team pass a number of tests already. The first was an opening-game shootout win over current national No. 3 Miami (Ohio). Two weeks later, the Buckeyes came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Denver to earn a series split. The last four home games have all been wins thanks to two-game sweeps of then-No. 11 Michigan State and then-No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha.

Ohio State has come from behind to earn four of its victories on the way to a 9-6-1 overall record.

"I think they've surprised us at points where they get their backs against the wall, they get down a goal," Markell said. "How they react to a little bit of adversity has been real good."

That Ohio State has been able to have such poise might be surprising given its relative youth with just five upperclassmen. Last year's team, which featured eight seniors, had a few comeback wins but also had its share of problems dealing with negativity.

Enter a hyped class of newcomers that included players like Dalpe and Cory Schneider, who won a British Columbia Hockey League title last year with Penticton, and sophomore Hunter Bishop, who played for a good Vernon team that lost to the Vees in the BCHL playoffs.

"I think the team is doing well in keeping it at an even keel," sophomore captain Peter Boyd said. "I think that's a different thing than we had last year. We're not panicking when situations go wrong. You can't because if you do that, that's when games go bad on you."

The Buckeyes also have fared well against lesser opposition, such as this weekend's opponent in Bentley, this year already thanks to a sweep of Robert Morris. That has come in contrast to recent years; the 2006 team earned just one point in two games against Alabama-Huntsville and last year's team did the same against Robert Morris and split with struggling St. Lawrence.

Bentley enters at 6-6-1 overall and in a five-way tie for second place with a 5-4-1 record in Atlantic Hockey with an early-season win against Rensselaer on their résumé.

"I looked up some of the teams that I think did take them lightly, and they either tied or got beat by them," Boyd said. "They're coming over here and this is one of their Stanley Cups for the year."

Markell said sophomore goaltender Dustin Carlson, the national player of the month for November, will continue to get the nod even after allowing four goals, two on the power play, against Robert Morris on Saturday during the Buckeyes' 7-4 win.

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