Hockey Program Looks To Move Forward

With the 15-plus-season tenure of John Markell now over, the Ohio State program looks ahead to a new era. That will start over the coming weeks with a coaching search, then the Buckeyes will get to work in trying to improve upon the run of disappointing seasons that signaled the end of Markell's tenure.

When it came down to brass tacks, the two numbers that determined the fate of Ohio State men's hockey coach John Markell were quite simple.

Wins and losses.

With an 80-94-24 record over the past five years – including no top-four CCHA finishes, no CCHA semifinal appearances and only one NCAA tournament showing – time ticked away on Markell to the point that Ohio State chose Tuesday morning not to renew his expiring contract.

Markell's players stayed out of trouble and performed well in the classroom, so the candidates for the newly open job know that the mandate is real – be prepared to win and win big.

"What we're looking for in our men's ice hockey program is one that is consistently successful, consistently competing for collegiate championships and consistently competing in the NCAA tournament," OSU hockey administrator Chris Schneider said. "Coach Markell has done very good things with our student-athletes, and he's done some good things with our program in the past. It just goes back to being a consistently successful program."

The last straw appeared to be this season's disappointing campaign. After being projected as a top-four team in the league and starting the year ranked 17th in the country thanks to an NCAA tournament appearance a year ago, the Buckeyes were never above .500, finishing eighth in the CCHA and losing in the quarterfinals to No. 2 Miami (Ohio). In addition, attendance plummeted and Schneider admitted he had heard fan discord with the flagging program.

It took only two days for the decision to be made, with the team told of the outcome Tuesday morning. Forward Sergio Somma, a senior-to-be, spoke for the team to the media this afternoon.

"Obviously it's a change," he said. "It's an adjustment everyone is going to have to do deal with here. Obviously it just happened so it's just settling in. Everyone is going to take it day by day and see where we go from here."

In the literal sense, the Buckeye program will now go into a coaching search. Schneider said that the university will have the job opening posted by the end of the week and keep it open through at least the Frozen Four, which is set for April 9-10. At that point, the athletic department will evaluate the pool of candidates and then narrow it for interviews.

The goal will be to have a coach in place by early May. As for what the Buckeyes are looking for in a coach, Schneider didn't put any constraints in place.

"We don't want to specifically say because we don't want to limit any idea of what we're looking for," he said. "We're doing a true national search. We want to see what the total pool of candidates is. It goes back to the goal of the program and the long-term success of it."

Somma said that he had been told two players will have a spot on the search committee, something he'd like to be a part of.

"That's something we're excited about, that we're going to have representation for our team picking the coaches on which direction we want to go," Somma said. "I volunteered myself but I'm not sure how it exactly works. I'd really like to be a part of that so hopefully Peter Boyd will be a part of that too just to be delegates for the team and pick which way we want to go."

Schneider was mum on potential candidates for the job, but he seemed to come close to shutting the door on promoting assistants Steve Brent and JB Bittner. Both spent multiple seasons as Buckeye captains as players and Markell highly recommended them to stay and also be part of the search in an interview Tuesday.

"They'll remain on staff until May 31," Schneider said. "If they would like to apply they can, but the decision will be up to the incoming head coach whether or not to retain them."

The incoming coach will enter an intriguing job, one which should draw the interest of many around the country. While Value City Arena, the largest on-campus hockey venue, is cavernous when mostly empty on game days, it contains excellent training facilities and boasts the potential to bring in big crowds when successful. In addition, there are plans in place for a future hockey-only facility as part of the university's long-term athletic facilities plan.

Ohio State is also on record as having an interest in extending the Big Ten Conference into hockey. At the very least, athletics would like to play more games against such Big Ten schools as Minnesota and Wisconsin in an effort to draw more fans and increase interest.

On the ice, a new hire could have the chance to shine right away. The Buckeyes will boast an experienced team next year, and this year's squad seemed to find its way as the season advanced.

"There's no reason why the team here at Ohio State shouldn't have a chance to win every year," Somma acknowledged. "The facilities, the opportunities that you have at this school, it's bar none. There's no reason why we shouldn't compete every year. I still think that we have the personnel and the talent to have a great team next year.

"We'll see what happens with a new attitude when we'll have a different coach."

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