Hockey In Need Of Points Vs. Miami

The most stark numbers for the No. 15 Ohio State men's hockey team are these: with two games left, the Buckeyes are three points behind Alaska for a crucial fourth-place bid in the CCHA. Starting tonight at Miami and continuing tomorrow night in Columbus, the Buckeyes' can carve an easier path for themselves against the rival RedHawks.

A measure of how far the No. 15 Ohio State hockey team has come this season will be levied tonight.

In a game starting at 7:30 p.m. in Steve Cady Arena in Oxford, the Buckeyes will face rival Miami (Ohio) in need of at least one point in the CCHA standings to keep alive hopes of a first-round league playoff bye.

That might sound fairly straightforward, but the last time the Buckeyes played in Oxford on Oct. 11 in the second game of the season, OSU returned to Columbus on the receiving end of a 7-3 blowout a night after a shootout win against the RedHawks.

Head coach John Markell admitted this week that his young team wasn't yet ready to face the RedHawks in front of their home crowd in October, but this game as part of the teams' last regular-season series of the year should be different.

"We should be ready now with everything that's on the line," he said. "(But) it's an in-state rival. They don't like us. They would be more than happy to defeat us."

More than a first-round bye is on the line. If the Buckeyes don't get the bye and are forced to play at home in the first round of the playoffs, they'll have to move to the 800-set OSU Ice Rink on campus because Value City Arena is booked. In this case, if the Buckeyes do advance out of that first round, they'd have to hit the road to face Alaska in the CCHA quarterfinals.

To avoid such a fate, the Buckeyes need to pick up at least three points this weekend on Alaska, which has completed its CCHA slate. Ohio State would pass Alaska with four points or would win the tiebreaker over the Nanooks by grabbing three points via a regulation/overtime win and a shootout loss.

Three points via a shootout win and shootout loss, however, would give the tiebreaker to Alaska, bringing into play numerous interesting situations that could come into play when the teams meet Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Value City Arena.

The road will be tough. Ohio State hasn't taken three points in a weekend against Miami, currently ranked seventh in the country, since March 2005. In five games in the 3-year-old Cady Arena, OSU has earned just one point.

"I think we're just sticking with what we do best," captain Peter Boyd said. "We're not going to dwell on things that happened. All we can do is control what we're going to do this weekend."

Either way, the Buckeyes do hold their own destiny in the hands.

"I'm really happy about it coming down to us, not another team winning or losing," sophomore center John Albert said. "It just makes it that much more exciting."

Added in is the fact that the Buckeyes have performed well this year when their backs have been against the wall. Pretty much needing a win a night after losing 4-1 at Alaska on Jan. 31, the Buckeyes posted a 5-0 lead in the first period and cruised to a 6-2 victory.

A weekend later, Ohio State came back two days after blowing a late lead against No. 2 Notre Dame to beat the Fighting Irish 4-1. And this past weekend, the Buckeyes played perhaps their worst game of the year Friday night while getting blown out 4-1 by No. 3 Michigan and followed that with a stirring 3-2 win that kept alive hopes of the fourth-place finish.

Before that second contest with Michigan, the Buckeyes had a team meeting in which everything was laid on the line. No feelings were sugarcoated. Truth served as a wake-up call. Eventually, sophomore Sergio Somma earned an "A" on his sweater as the alternate captain for his work in getting the team pointed in the right direction.

"There was accountability," Markell said. "Anytime you have a dressing room where you say it and you walk out and the message is being put fourth by your captains and your upperclassmen, that's the winning formula. That's all it was."

Two goals are in sight for the Buckeyes on the weekend. At 19-11-4, the team can reach 20 wins with a victory for the first time since 2005. With the two points, a bye is in sight.

"If you would have asked me if we would be sitting in fifth place the last weekend of the year, would you take that?" Markell said. "Yeah, I would have taken that. We have ourselves in a position to do something, but it's all on the line Friday night."

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