Hockey Ready For NCAA Chance

All season long, the Ohio State hockey team has shown it can beat -- or lose to -- the very best teams in the country on any given night. The Buckeyes get the ultimate chance to prove their worth today when they open the NCAA tournament at 5:30 on ESPN2 against No. 1 overall seed Boston University. To prepare, the team called in a special guest.

Ken Hitchcock has become the Yoda of Columbus hockey. As the head coach of the red-hot Blue Jackets, perhaps playoff-bound for the first time in franchise history, Hitchcock has become something of a cult figure in Ohio's capital city. His words related to hockey, specifically in regards to having success in the sport, are treated as gospel.

Ohio State head coach John Markell hopes that the success Hitchcock is having piloting his Blue Jackets can rub off on the Buckeyes. As OSU spent Wednesday preparing for today's first-round NCAA tournament matchup with No. 1 overall seed Boston University, a trip to downtown's Nationwide Arena resulted in a pre-practice pep talk from the Stanley Cup-winning coach.

"The guy knows his stuff," sophomore Sergio Somma said.

But what Hitchcock had to say in his short talk to the Buckeyes wasn't so much ground-breaking as it was a refresher course to Ohio State, which will take to the ice to face BU at 5:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) in Manchester, N.H. The Buckeyes are seeded fourth in the Northeast Regional.

"He kind of put things in perspective a little bit, that any team can win on any night," defenseman Chris Reed said. "It doesn't matter what team is ranked higher or what team might have more talented players. It all comes down to one game. Anybody can win. He stressed that it's the team that plays a team game, who plays a better game, is going to win."

The fourth-seeded Buckeyes already had an inkling of that fact. During a 23-14-4 campaign up to this point, Ohio State has beaten Notre Dame, Michigan and Denver, the other three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, as well as NCAA quarterfinalist Miami (Ohio), lending credence to the following opinion.

"It's a one-game shot," Markell said. "We always thought all year if we had a one-game shot, it's anybody's game."

Then again, Ohio State has lost to each of those teams as well. The differences in the wins and losses were evident to even casual observers. Wins were a team effort with great goaltending and physical, aggressive play evident from the opening faceoff; losses often included shaky play in net and almost absent-minded, indifferent play.

"Some nights we played the best game that we could possibly play, and other games it was half there or three-quarters there," Reed said. "That's just not enough. That makes a big difference."

The mystery for the Buckeyes has been figuring out how to get the Dr. Jekyll version of the team to show up on a nightly basis. They'll need it against the Terriers, who enter boasting some of the most impressive stats in the nation.

Nashville draft pick Colin Wilson is fourth in the nation in points with 50, and sophomore Nick Bonino (Anaheim) isn't far behind with 40. Jason Lawrence led the team with 21 goals and Colorado draftee Brandon Yip had 19. Wilson and defenseman Matt Gilroy are finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's Heisman.

Overall, the Terriers (31-6-4) were third in scoring offense, third in scoring defense and tops in the nation in goal differential at 1.90 to the positive per game. The Hockey East and Beanpot champions have the best combined special teams in the nation.

"Obviously, the No. 1 team in the nation is not somebody you want to be staring down the barrel of a gun at," Markell said. "But, hey, we have to meet that challenge. Hopefully our guys can stay focused and play hockey against them and not just watch them play."

What the Buckeyes are hoping for is that Boston University's noted skill and success is what causes the Terriers to struggle in the game. On the tournament's first day, both No. 1 seeds that played, Michigan and Denver, were upset by fourth seeds Air Force and Miami, respectively.

With just one loss in their last 21 games, the Terriers enter as the favorites. Ohio State, meanwhile, was the last at-large team to earn a bid in the tournament, an invitation earned thanks to the failings of others while the Buckeyes sat at home after losing in the quarterfinals of the CCHA tournament to Alaska.

"We have nothing to lose," sophomore John Albert said. "All of the pressure is on them. They're the No. 1 seed. They're the ones that are supposed to make it to the finals this year. They're the ones that are supposed to win it all."

The spirit of Hitchcock's talk was that anything can happen in one game. If the Buckeyes already knew that, Markell hopes that the reminder is what they needed to come out with the right attitude.

"We took (the message) to heart," Somma said. "I think we already kind of felt like we were going to have to do that anyway, so I think that's what we're going to try to do is be physical early. I think we can skate with them. Just try to frustrate them and the pressure will build as the game goes on for them."


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