Buckeyes Return To NCAA Tournament

A week of waiting to find out its NCAA tournament fate ended up being with it for the Ohio State hockey team. The Buckeyes let out a cheer when their name popped up on the screen during the NCAA selection show on Sunday afternoon, ending a three-year tourney drought. OSU draws the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, Boston University, on Saturday.

A whirdwind couple of days for the Ohio State men's hockey team ended with players huddled around computers Saturday night – and their head coach nowhere to be found.

"I went to a movie to try not to think about it," John Markell said.

He was referring to his team's NCAA tournament hopes. Having been eliminated from the CCHA conference tournament last Sunday, the Buckeyes' NCAA hopes were out of their hands, fully dependent on what was happening in the conference tourney games yet to play through yesterday evening.

And with No. 1 Boston University's win over Massachusetts-Lowell in the Hockey East championship game last night, the Buckeyes' ticket to the postseason was punched. The numbers fell just right for Ohio State to earn the last at-large bid into the 16-team field, which was announced Sunday morning.

As reward for a 23-14-4 season, the fourth-seeded Buckeyes will face a familiar foe: the Terriers of BU, the very team they rooted for so vociferously on Saturday night.

"Isn't it funny that the team we were pulling for the most this weekend, we end up playing?" Markell said. "I guess it's careful what you wish for, but it provides our program with an opportunity for these young guys to get a taste of it right away."

The Buckeyes and Terriers (31-6-4) will meet Saturday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. in Manchester, N.H. Whoever advances will take on the winner of the North Dakota-New Hampshire game on Sunday evening.

The tournament trip is Ohio State's first since after the 2005 season. The only player on the team to have gone to an NCAA tournament before is fifth-year senior Zach Pelletier, who was a freshman at the time and did not play in the first-round loss to Cornell.

For Pelletier and fellow seniors Corey Elkins, who graduated Sunday, and Nick Biondo, the uncertainly of the past few days had been magnified. The three were unsure if their Ohio State careers were over after the three-game series loss to Alaska in the CCHA quarterfinals, but they will play on.

"It's going to be incredibly special," said Elkins, who led the team with 18 goals and 40 points. "I'm just really excited."

The team continued to practice after returning from Alaska during the past week. They did so after immediately going to their computers following the Game 3 loss to the Nanooks.

At the airport in Fairbanks as the team waited to return to Columbus, sophomore captain Peter Boyd opened up his computer and began running the various scenarios that could happen in the remaining conference tournament games and how they would affect Ohio State.

"After Alaska, I told the guys I had a feeling that we were going to get in," he said. "I wanted to make sure what possible ways we could get in. I was on the computer 24-7 for a day and a half just to make sure of everything so I knew which games to watch."

Three key games ensured that the Buckeyes would get another chance. First, Minnesota lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA tournament, a loss that eventually put the Golden Gophers on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. On Friday, St. Lawrence lost in the ECAC semifinals to Yale, moving the Buckeyes ahead of the Saints.

Finally, on Saturday night, BU held off UMass-Lowell by a 1-0 score. The RiverHawks would have earned Hockey East's automatic berth into the tournament and knocked Ohio State out with a victory.

Once all of those results were in, the numbers that the tournament committee uses to choose the field favored Ohio State over fellow bubble teams Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes found out for sure that they would be in the tournament when they gathered as a team to watch the selection show on Sunday morning. When Ohio State's name appeared on the screen, the team let out a cheer.

"With everyone sitting around here and everybody reacting at the same time, that was pretty cool," Elkins said.

The tournament bid comes one year after one of the worst seasons in Markell's 15-year reign, a 12-25-4 campaign that included a second-to-last-place finish in the CCHA. This year's group, with 22 sophomores and freshmen among its 27 teams, started slowly, getting off to a 2-5-1 start.

But the emergence of goaltender Dustin Carlson allowed the team to start to jell, and the Buckeyes at one point had an 11-game winning streak and won 14 of 15. During the final month of the season, OSU split two-game series with NCAA tournament teams Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.

"The hard work that you put in from last year to this year, it's definitely worth it just for this feeling right now," Boyd said. "Every guy in that locker room put 100 percent into making the team better, and look what it does for you."

Ohio State started league tournament play with a two-game sweep of last-place Bowling Green before losing the Alaska series by a 2-1 margin.

As it turns out, losing to the Nanooks might have been the best thing that could have happened to Ohio State. The Buckeyes returned from Alaska on Monday and took final exams during the week without having to prepare for or make the trip to the CCHA final four, held Friday and Saturday in Detroit.

In the end, the Buckeyes got a break from game action and still reached the ultimate goal of an NCAA tournament berth.

"We should be energized by this whole process," Markell said. "I want to congratulate our guys. I refused to shake their hands after the Sunday game (in Alaska). I thought we still had an opportunity, and I'm glad we're getting it."

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