There have been quite a few changes since the Ohio State men’s hockey team exited the ice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit after a loss in the CCHA semifinals in March.
The loss to Notre Dame ended one era – goodbye Central Collegiate Hockey Association and coach Mark Osiecki - and eventually ushered in a new one - hello Big Ten and new coach Steve Rohlik.
Gone was the third-year coach Osiecki who was replaced in April by his assistant just in time for Buckeyes to join the new Big Ten conference.
“There’s definitely a lot of hype around this room,” senior forward Travis Statchuk said this week. “We’re ready to go. Obviously a lot of things went down this year – just a whole new league, the Big Ten, a new staff, a new team.”
The makeover of the college hockey landscape – which included the demise of the CCHA – means the Buckeyes and No. 2 Miami (Ohio) are no longer league brethren, but when the teams open the season Friday at 7 p.m. in Value City Arena no one is ready to say the emotions in the series have cooled.
“It’s a huge game,” senior forward Alex Szczechura said. “Miami’s a huge rival, always will be to Ohio State.”
The RedHawks are also on the move, becoming a charter member of the eight-team National College Hockey Conference, giving the game and the return match Saturday in Oxford an early test for the newbie conferences.
“In the back of everyone’s mind it is the big thing,” Rohlik said. “More importantly for us we know we’re playing Miami. They’re right down the road. They’re a great team. More important than what league vs. what (league), it’s us vs. Miami.”
The Buckeyes are coming off a 16-17-7 record with a veteran team that includes the top eight scorers returning, including junior Ryan Dzingel, who had a team-high 16 goals and 38 points.
“We have a ton of depth,” Szczechura said.
Being able to get quality minutes up and down the lineup will be a key for the Buckeyes.
“We’re going to have to have to play four lines and six D every night,” Rohlik said. “Hopefully we can wear teams down.”
It’s been a formula for success for the RedHawks, a perennial qualifier for the NCAA tournament, the final CCHA regular season champion and the preseason favorite to win the NCHC while the Buckeyes were picked for fourth in the Big Ten.
“It’s a good measuring stick,” playing Miami, Rohlik said. “We’re confident. We’re going to go out there Friday and give it everything we’ve got and we’re going to see where we’re at.”
Even though the season is just starting it’s never too early to make a good impression.
“First game of the season, you want to get off to a good start, prove ourselves around the league that we can compete against these high ranked teams,” Szczechura said.
Although the Buckeyes play 12 nonconference games before opening Big Ten play on Nov. 29 at Michigan, the program has benefited already around campus.
“Football and basketball are in the Big Ten Conference,” Szczechura said. “Now when they ask what you league you play in we can say the Big Ten. It gives us more publicity.”
For tonight, though, it’s Miami and that’s all that needs to be said.
“Going against Miami is always very exciting,” Statchuk said. “They’re always up there in the standings. We obviously want to get off to a good start, give them a go and get a few Ws here.”
NOTES: OSU is 26-21-3 all-time in season openers; since 1999-00, the Buckeyes’ first full season in Value City Arena; they are 6-4-4 in the first home game of the season… Miami leads the series 69-62-13. In Columbus, the Buckeyes have the edge, 36-24-8. The RedHawks were 3-1-1 vs. OSU last season… Ohio State is celebrating 50 years of hockey. The program was elevated to varsity status in 1963-64… Ohio State plays at Bowling Green on Tuesday but nine of the first 12 and 14 of 18 the first are at home.