The No. 14 Buckeye hockey team didn't go with peroxide, playoff beards or mullets when looking for a way to boost some team unity going into the start of the CCHA playoffs tonight. As the Buckeyes begin a best-of-three series at the OSU Ice Rink with Bowling Green that runs tonight through Sunday, members of the team have instead made a bold fashion statement by dyeing their hair red.
The last time the Buckeyes undertook a similar endeavor, the team went with buzz cuts, blond hair and beards while winning the CCHA in 2005.
"Some of it doesn't impress me," head coach John Markell deadpanned, "but whatever brings them together. If that does it, that's great. In the past it has and in the past it hasn't."
But every little bit should help on the Buckeyes' treacherous postseason road. After missing out on a first-round playoff bye by one point, OSU begins its postseason at the Ice Rink after being booted from their usual Value City Arena home by the state high school wrestling tournament. The Ice Rink, the program's antiquated, intimate practice rink, seats only 800 and sits next to St. John Arena.
Should Ohio State advance from the set against last-place Bowling Green, a trip to face Alaska in Fairbanks next weekend for a best-of-three, quarterfinal series would be in the cards.
With the Buckeyes holding onto an NCAA tournament position for dear life, why not add a little levity into what are some serious circumstances?
"A lot of guys just like doing it," sophomore captain Peter Boyd said. "It just kind of like gets us together as a team. It feels good, doing something as a team. It keeps us loose in the dressing room before playoffs. You don't want to be tight going into playoffs."
The team's biggest battle on the weekend could be in its own dressing room. Of the 27 players on the team, 22 are underclassmen, and none of those players have ever taken part in a home playoff series at OSU. Nerves – especially in a bandbox as loud as the ice rink – could be a factor.
There's also the added dimension of possible disappointment after missing out on the first-round bye thanks to a 7-5 loss on home-ice in the season finale against rival Miami (Ohio). The Buckeyes (20-12-4, 13-11-4-3) enter the series having gone 4-6-2 in their last 12 games, though six were against top-10 teams and another was against fourth-place Alaska on the road.
"I think we have to look forward," Markell said. "We've accomplished a lot of stuff this season and it's been a very positive season as far as getting ourselves into this position now. The kids should be excited. We have an opportunity to defend our home. We should be excited about that."
The Falcons (11-22-3, 8-19-1-0), who Ohio State swept in the BGSU Ice Arena by 8-5 and 4-3 finals in January, enter the series having lost two games in a row and seven of nine overall. They do boast two of the top scorers in the league in Dan Sexton (fourth, 16-22-38) and Brandon Svendsen (11th, 12-18-30).
Defense and goaltending have been a problem, especially when the presumed starter between the pipes in Nick Eno missed the first half of the season because of injury. BG is last in the league in scoring defense, allowing 3.31 goals per game.
"Playoffs are a whole different season," Boyd said. "Bowling Green gave us two solid efforts up there. Their record might not show how good they are, but they're a very good team and if we're not ready to play they're going to take it to us. They're a fast team. They can really move the puck."
It's hard to predict if playing in the Ice Rink will have any impact on the series. The Buckeyes, seeded seventh, faced Northern Michigan there in 2007 and won the first game before dropping the final two to end their season.
Senior Corey Elkins, one of the players to take part in that series, offered a stinging reaction when asked after the Miami game if he was looking forward to the playing in the venue by answering with a laugh.
"I mean, who wants to play there?" Elkins said. "But, you know, what can you do? It's another one of those things we just have to accept. Nobody wants to play in there, but oh well."
Ohio State senior captain Zach Pelletier had a different reaction.
"That was fun," he said. "I liked it. The crowd seems like they're right on top of you. It's fun."