Michigan State has been a thorn in Ohio State’s side the past five weeks with high-profile wins against the undefeated football and men’s basketball teams.
Now it’s the men’s hockey team’s chance against the Spartans on Friday and Saturday at Value City Arena, although on a much smaller scale because neither team is ranked nor expected to compete for a Big Ten title if one is to believe the preseason polls.
Yet, OSU senior defenseman Curtis Gedig was thinking of the rivalry as he watched Michigan State end the OSU basketball team’s 15-game winning streak Tuesday with a 72-68 overtime win. That victory came exactly one month after the Spartans snapped the football Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten Championship Game, 34-24.
“I was talking about that this morning, trying to be the first (OSU) team to beat them,” Gedig told BSB on Wednesday. “It’s definitely exciting, a little more incentive there.”
The OSU icers (10-6-0, 0-2-0-0 Big Ten) have a modest two-game winning streak entering their second weekend of play in the new hockey conference. The games are the start of 18 straight in league play to complete the regular season.
“There’s no nights off anymore,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “We know what’s at stake. There’s going to be a lot of close games. It’s going to be good for every program because it’s going to push our players to be better, push the coaches to be better. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
That the Spartans (6-9-2, 0-1-1-1) are fresh in the minds of OSU fans can be good for a hockey program that has moved from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association after 40 seasons.
“It’s about our guys against their guys,” Rohlik said. “We’re playing a very good team. We know we have to play our best hockey but certainly there is a rivalry. We know what happened with football. We know what happened with basketball.
“There’s pride there and that’s what’s special about this league. People in Columbus know it is football. It is basketball. It is hockey now. That’s maybe what’s going to pull everybody together.
“It’s an understanding that, ‘Hey, (MSU) beat us in the other two sports. Wait, hockey’s in the Big Ten as well.’ That understanding will be really huge for our program.”
Junior forward Ryan Dzingel hopes that translates into bigger crowds, knowing that two of the biggest drawbacks to higher attendance have been fans’ unfamiliarity with some of the smaller schools in the now-defunct CCHA (Ferris State, Lake Superior State for example) and home games during football season.
“We’ll probably get bigger crowds because they’ll know who we’re playing against,” he said. “It will help with the fan base and the football team is over with, too. It would be nice to have a little bit more fans.”
The Buckeyes have already played their first two games in the Big Ten but that was more than a month and three goalies ago.
OSU lost 4-3 in overtime at Michigan on Nov. 29 and 5-4 at home Dec. 2 with third-string, freshman walk-on Logan Davis in goal.
He was called into duty after sophomore Collin Olson, the expected starting goalie, lost his job to freshman Matt Tomkins and left the team Nov. 3. Six days later Tomkins suffered a sprained ankle that kept him out of the lineup the remainder of the calendar year.
After the Michigan series, Rohlik brought in Christian Frey from the United States Hockey League, a major junior league, and he backstopped the Buckeyes to 6-3 and 7-2 wins against Mercyhurst on Dec. 28-29.
Tomkins is healthy again and Rohlik told the media Wednesday that he is unsure who will get the start Friday.
“Matt’s obviously proven that he’s an elite goalie at this level but he hasn’t played in a long time so we’ve got to handle that the right way,” the coach said.
Tomkins said he is ready.
“It’s tough not being in a game situation for close to two months,” he said to BSB. “It’s not the situation you want but I think I’ll be able to hop back into it. It’s a matter of getting nerves out of the way quickly and getting back comfortable in that game environment.”
NOTES: The game Friday starts at 6:30 p.m., 35 minutes earlier than normal, because it’s the first of a doubleheader on the Big Ten Network. Michigan at Wisconsin follows at 9 p.m... The Saturday faceoff is 7:05 p.m… OSU’s sweep of Mercyhurst came in the team's only games since Dec. 2. Michigan State has played five times since Dec. 6. “Practices when we had the off weekends were pretty hard so guys are definitely pretty excited to strap them up and play different guys and beat up different guys finally,” Gedig said.