A native of Ann Arbor, Ohio State hockey co-captain Sean Duddy is excited to go up against Michigan this weekend.
He’s far from alone. The Wolverines come to town this weekend ranked No. 11 in the country and third in the CCHA standings for a charged weekend series in Value City Arena.
Facing their third ranked team in a row, the Buckeyes start the two-game series with the Wolverines at 7:35 p.m. Friday night on the Big Ten Network before closing the series at 7 on Saturday night.
Ohio State is also trying to market the series, offering the always popular Script Ohio on ice Friday night and a whiteout promotion on Saturday.
“It’s always fun, not just because I’m from there but because Michigan is a very good team,” Duddy said of playing the Maize and Blue. “We get to test ourselves against the best, and it’s fun because I grew up watching them, too.”
The rivalry is always strong, one of the top two Ohio State has on the ice along with Miami (Ohio). In notable recent contests, the Buckeyes beat Michigan to win the 2004 CCHA title, staged a series that ended in fisticuffs in 2007 and split the points during the most recent meeting a season ago.
“It’s definitely an intense game,” said senior forward Sergio Somma, who has eight points in eight career games vs. U-M. “It’s emotional. As seniors, you kind of grow to be a part of that rivalry. You don’t really like them, to tell you the truth. I’m sure it’s the same on that side.”
While Michigan is one of college hockey’s powers, having won nine NCAA championships, the Buckeyes have only one Frozen Four appearance in history and two conference championships.
“They have the reputation as being the stronger program and we’re kind of the underdogs usually, so it’s definitely aggressive out there,” Duddy said. “I don’t want to say we take it to a higher level because we try to play a high level every game, but emotions are running high.”
Michigan holds an 11-8-0 lead in the last 19 meetings going back to a 2003 OSU win that snapped an eight-game U-M unbeaten streak and an overall edge of 65-30-11, something first-year head coach Mark Osiecki is trying to overturn while establishing a new winning tradition.
In an attempt to understand the rivalry, Osiecki – who hails from Minnesota and attended Wisconsin – has talked to fellow OSU coaches Jim Tressel, Thad Matta and Jim Foster, who have a combined three losses to Michigan between them.
“You see it with football, certainly,” Osiecki said of the rivalry. “You talk with Coach Tressel and Coach Matta and Foster and you certainly understand the tradition that has been built there. Coming from Wisconsin, another Big Ten situation, it’s not much different from what we had with Minnesota, so you understand those traditions that are there.”
Progress Being Made
Those questioned say the Buckeyes are making progress in the systems Osiecki is trying to install.
After a 1-3 start, Ohio State has gone 4-4-1, with the tie followed by a shootout win last weekend vs. No. 14 Alaska. During their past two weekends of play, the Buckeyes have split on the road at then-No. 16 MSU and played well vs. the Nanooks despite only taking two of six points.
“We’re definitely getting better for sure from week to week,” Duddy said. “We’re making that adjustment. It’s a new staff, a new system, just a new culture to the team, so we’ve been adjusting. I feel like week to week, we’re doing that. We still have a way to go, but our habits are getting better and I think we’re doing a better job of sticking to our systems.”
Osiecki said Ohio State played its best hockey of the year vs. the Nanooks. The Buckeyes opened with the shootout win and held a 2-1 lead going into the third period in the second game before special teams miscues and a short lull in intensity let Alaska leave with a 5-2 victory.
“We just have to find a way, especially when we have a team down in the third period, to close it out,” Somma said. “We played like 50 good minutes. (For) five, 10 minutes of the third, we kind of just shut down and they took advantage of it. They’re a good team so that’s what’s going to happen.”
Dries On Fire
Another Michigander who will surely look forward to playing the Wolverines is junior Danny Dries. A transfer from New Hampshire and native of Lake Orion, Mich., Dries grew up about an hour and change north of Ann Arbor.
He’s also been Ohio State’s best player in recent weeks, scoring four goals and nine points during the team’s six games in November.
“He’s obviously got a gifted stick,” Osiecki said. “He’s very good with the puck. He has a very good hockey sense. He has the ability to make plays with the puck.”
Dries posted a 21-28-49 line in 71 games over two seasons at UNH before leaving. He sat out last year but practiced with Ohio State, and he had only one assist in his first four games as a Buckeye before turning it on.
Now back in game shape, Dries has six goals to tie for the team lead, and his 12 points are good for third on the squad.
“I’m feeling good now,” he said. “It took probably four or five games to just get the legs back and stuff. I’m definitely past that now I feel like.
“Right now I’m working on getting to the net a little more, playing down low, getting some dirty goals. For sure I want to score. I look at it like if I’m getting a lot of ice time, I have to be putting up the points to help the team win.”