And to get it, they'll probably have to go through their biggest rival, No. 2 Miami.
Both teams start play in the two-day, four-team tournament tonight, with the Buckeyes meeting Army at 8 p.m. at Value City after the RedHawks face off against Clarkson at 5. Considering that the Buckeyes and RedHawks enter as the two teams in the tournament with winning records – and that the two programs have met in the championship game in three straight years of the tourney – all signs point to yet another showdown between the two Buckeye State schools in the finals.
That, of course, is the conventional wisdom that head coach John Markell is trying to keep his team away from considering. At the front of his arsenal is the last game the Buckeyes (11-6-1) played, a 3-2 overtime win against Bentley on Dec. 13 that was far from the team's best hockey.
"We had a meeting yesterday," Markell said. "They know the way they've been approaching certain games is that they're playing the name on the sweater, not the team that's in front of them."
That's always the worry with a young team, and Markell surely is interested to see how the Buckeyes reply against a service academy team that surely doesn't have any give-up in it.
The good news for the head coach is that his team already appears to have taken the game against Army seriously. When the team returned to Columbus on Dec. 26 to resume practice, they came back ready to go and fared well on the fitness test the coaching staff imposed after the nearly two-week holiday break.
"Everyone treated the little break very well," sophomore defenseman Erick Belanger said. "They took care of their bodies. The guys that were a little banged up made sure they were healed up and ready."
While the Buckeyes stayed healthy on break, they might have had a better time meeting with family and friends this year given that the squad's 11-6-1 record, its best at this time in four years, is much better than the 5-13-2 mark the Buckeyes went home with last year.
"Last year I kind of covered it up by maybe saying we played better teams here and there," Boyd said. "But yeah, it feels really good to win for sure. We definitely want to keep that going in the second half because everybody gets happy when they win. People are willing to buy into systems when they see results, and I think this year we've been buying into the systems and we've been seeing results."
Continued better results – including perhaps a turnaround of last year's 3-2 loss to Miami in the title game – would provide the strongest signal yet that Ohio State, which has won nine of 10 games, is a different team from a year ago and a contender in the CCHA.
"I think (the tournament) will be very competitive and should be a lot of fun for the people," Markell said. "A tournament is something you can win in the middle of the season. You can put a positive in the middle of the season."
A look at the three teams that will be part of the tournament along with Ohio State:
Army: The Black Knights enter at 4-11-1 overall and 4-7-1 in Atlantic Hockey. They played in a tournament last weekend as well, dropping games to Dartmouth and Massachusetts in the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H. Army is one of the youngest teams in the country, as five of the team's top nine scorers are freshmen and six other first-year players contribute. Sophomore Cody Omilusik leads head coach Brian Riley's squad with a 7-8-15 line, while junior Owen Meyer leads the team with eight goals. Senior Josh Kassel and sophomore Jay Clark split goaltending duties, with the younger player having better stats (2-4-1, 3.50 GAA, .893 sv pct).
Clarkson: George Roll's Golden Knights were pegged as a ranked team early in the season, but injuries and youth have doomed the squad to a 2-10-4 record and 1-6-1 mark and last-place standing in the ECAC. A trio of sophomores in Scott Freeman, Lauri Tuohimaa and Brandon DeFazio are the only players in double figures in points, with Freeman leading the team with 12 assists and 14 points and Tuohimaa topped the goal chart with eight. A freshman class the team was depending on coming into the season has fallen flat, as Julien Cayer leads that group with just six points. The Golden Knights are 50th of 58 teams in the nation in scoring, a fact that hasn't helped freshman goaltender Paul Karpowich, who has a 2-8-3 record and 3.10 GAA.
No. 2 Miami: Losing captain Ryan Jones and a slew of other talented players hasn't hurt the RedHawks, who are 12-3-3 and 10-2-2-1 in the CCHA. Miami enters the tournament having won eight games in a row while allowing a total of 10 goals in that span. The RedHawks are sixth in the nation in both scoring (3.50 goals per game) and defense (1.72). Offensively, Miami is led by sophomore Carter Camper, whose 11 goals and 15 helpers are tops on the squad. His 26 points ties him for second in the nation. Pat Cannone has 20 points, senior Justin Mercier has 16 and freshman defenseman Chris Wideman has 15 helpers. Miami splits goaltending duties between freshmen Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp; the former has a 1.64 GAA and the latter is at 1.77.