First-year Ohio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik hasn’t wavered in his talks with the media that the focus should be on his players even as he goes through his own reunion tour of sorts through college hockey.
First was the series Nov. 1-2 in Value City Arena against Minnesota Duluth, the school where he was on the staff for 10 years before joining the Buckeyes as the associate head coach in 2010.
Then there was the return to his home state Jan. 17-18 for a pair of games against Big Ten rival Minnesota.
Now it’s back to his alma mater this weekend for Rohlik, who was a two-time captain for Wisconsin, including his senior season when the Badgers won the 1990 NCAA title.
“It’s a special place for me,” he said. “It always will be, but there’s a time and a place for that and right now my time and place is 100 percent with these guys and to prepare our team the best we can.”
His task is to come out of the games Friday (9 p.m. Eastern time, BTN) and Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Wisconsin/BTN2Go) with points against the ninth-ranked Badgers.
Ohio State is 11-8-1 overall but just 1-4-1-0 in the first Big Ten season, good for fifth place in the six-team league. They have two losses and a tie (shootout loss) in the past three games. Yet, despite the conference record they have been outscored only 18-15 in the league.
Three of the four league losses have been by a goal (one in overtime) and the other was a 4-2 defeat last Saturday after taking a 2-0 first-period lead on the No. 1 Gophers.
“It’s a little frustrating,” junior forward Max McCormick said. “We know we have the group to do it. We’ve just got to find a way to come out top in those games.”
For Rohlik, the key against the Badgers (13-6-1, 4-2-0-0) is to return to the gritty style that brought the Buckeyes success.
“We’ve got to continue to get to the hard areas,” he said. “We probably haven’t gotten there as well as we have in the past. Certainly we are playing elite teams. Wisconsin’s going to make you earn every inch on the ice. They’re great defensively. They’re well coached.”
Since the programs played in different leagues before the formation of the Big Ten’s hockey conference – OSU was in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association; Wisconsin was a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association – the meetings have been few and far in between.
The Badgers won all eight meetings in the 1960s when the OSU program was in its infancy but the schools have met only three times since.
Curiously, none of the three were on the campuses of the respective schools.
Wisconsin took a 1-0 overtime victory at the 2004 NCAA East Regional semifinal in Albany, N.Y., and defeated the Buckeyes by a 4-2 margin two years later before 40,890 fans at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., in OSU’s first outdoor game.
The last matchup was Oct. 13, 2007, when the Buckeyes won 5-3 in the Lefty McFadden Invitational in the Nutter Center in Dayton.
This will be Ohio State’s first visit to Madison since 1969. That’s good news for Wisconsin natives McCormick (De Pere) and sophomore forward Tyler Lundey (Middleton).
“I followed (Wisconsin) pretty closely growing up since it was so close to home,” McCormick said. “In my hometown there were a couple of guys who were older who used to play for the Badgers.”
Lundey expects around a dozen family and friends to cheer him in enemy territory at the Kohl Center.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “It’s a rink I used to go watch the Badgers play all the time. It will be a lot of fun to actually play on the ice.”
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