When Mark Osiecki was hired as the Ohio State men’s hockey coach in April 2010, the college hockey world immediately figured longtime friend Steve Rohlik would join him – which ended up happening as Osiecki quickly hired Rohlik as his associate coach.
Now, three years later, Rohlik is taking over for Osiecki as the Buckeyes’ head coach.
The university announced Wednesday that Rohlik will take over the full-time duties as Ohio State’s head coach, making him the ninth head coach in program history and just its fourth since 1976.
Rohlik was named the interim boss April 16, one day after Osiecki was stunningly fired after three seasons in charge and a 46-50-16 record. He also served as OSU's head coach two of the past three seasons when Osiecki was away with the U.S. World Junior teams.
“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to become the next coach at Ohio State,” Rohlik said in a statement. “I want to thank Gene Smith, Chris Schneider and the administration for giving me this chance. I look forward to leading this program into the Big Ten.”
Added associate athletic director Chris Schneider, who oversees the hockey program, “Steve has been an integral part of the hockey program and its recent success on the ice, in the community and in the classroom. He has earned the respect of those in and around the program. We are excited to have him directing the squad as we begin play in the Big Ten.”
The St. Paul, Minn., native will be a first-time head coach at the NCAA level after having spent the previous 16 years on the bench as an assistant. Before his three seasons with Osiecki at OSU, Rohlik spent 10 years on the bench underneath Scott Sandelin at Minnesota Duluth, and he also worked with Mike Kemp at Nebraska-Omaha from 1998-2000.
Before that, Rohlik was the head coach at his prep alma mater, Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, Minn., after also working as an assistant coach at Wisconsin in 1991.
It was in Madison where he met Osiecki, as the two were key members of the Badgers team that won the 1990 NCAA title. Rohlik graduated from UW that year with a degree in communications and journalism.
Though Rohlik didn’t often work with Osiecki prior to OSU, the two always stayed close, largely because of their similar backgrounds. In fact, the two suited up against one another in highly competitive Minnesota prep scene, with Osiecki’s Burnsville High School squad beating Rohlik’s Hill-Murray team in the ’85 and ’86 state title games.
When Rohlik was hired at OSU, he talked about the continuing relationship between himself and Osiecki, which helped draw him to Ohio State.
“I think we’re very similar in a lot of ways,” he told BSB at the time. “We have our family backgrounds – our parents are involved in teaching and athletics and coaching and all of those kinds of things. I think we have the same passion, work ethic and the care for the kids.”
Now, Rohlik takes over for his longtime friend, whose dismissal was announced by athletic director Gene Smith in a terse statement that referred to a “difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved.” Osiecki told BSB that the hiring was not preceded by any critique of his leadership style from Ohio State leadership, though sources have told BSB of discord within the team and department in the way Osiecki ran the program.
Nonetheless, the hiring of Rohlik – who Osiecki called the program's "recruiting coordinator" after his hiring – could help continue the program’s forward momentum going and should help Ohio State keep together a solid recruiting class that includes a pair of NHL draft picks in forward Zach Stepan and goaltender Matt Tomkins who have signed national letters of intent, as well as some future classes filled with talented junior players.
It is also not the sexy choice many fans had hoped for, especially with the Buckeyes set to debut this season in what should be an ultra-competitive Big Ten Conference with traditional powers Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota – all of whom have won at least three national titles – as well as the new program at Penn State.
However, Rohlik has long been around successful programs, including what appeared to be a turnaround at Ohio State. The Buckeyes finished fourth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association this season and made an appearance at Joe Louis Arena for the semifinals of the league tournament, both occurrences that had not happened since 2005.
In addition to his national title as a player at UW, Rohlik helped Minnesota Duluth to the 2004 Frozen Four and a 2009 Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship.
An assistant coach job to fill the open slot on the staff has been posted on Ohio State’s human resources website.