Dzingel Shines After Father's Illness

Ohio State hockey player Ryan Dzingel has been one of the great success stories in college hockey on and off the ice this season. The Big Ten's leading scorer, Dzingel is also playing for his father, Rick, who was diagnosed with and beat cancer in the past 14 months.

There's a reason Ohio State's foe in the now defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association is named Northern Michigan.

The school in Marquette puts the up in Upper Peninsula, and at 630 miles from Columbus, it can take half a day to get there and seem even longer on the return trip following a loss to the Wildcats.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the teams are now in separate leagues and OSU is no longer required to journey to the city on the edge of Lake Superior.

But that's not why the bus trip to Marquette in January 2013 was a momentous one in the life of Ohio State junior forward Ryan Dzingel.

On the way there he was informed by his family that his father, Rick, had cancer in his lymph nodes and throat and would have to undergo months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"I found out on the 11-hour bus ride so that was a tough experience," the younger Dzingel said. "I grew a lot from all of it. I realized hockey's just a game and life's short."

Dzingel idolized his father and early on wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a baseball player. Rick played at Louisiana Tech and had a brief career in the low minors in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

He was the baseball coach at Ryan's high school, Wheaton (Ill.) Academy, and despite father and son differing on whom to root for – Ryan is a Chicago Cubs fan while Rick prefers the rival White Sox – they were very close.

"It was tough dealing with that and worrying about Dad," Ryan said. "He's always been my rock with sports. That was definitely tough going back and seeing him go from a big, strong man – he's my idol, and chemo really takes it out of you."

Despite receiving the news about his father's cancer, Dzingel played both games at Northern Michigan and had a total of three assists.

Dzingel was able to make it home to Wheaton several times the remainder of the season and on occasion would sleep on a couch in his father's hospital room.

"I prayed a lot and thank God it worked out," Ryan said.

Yes, the good news is that his father is now cancer-free and has been able to make trips to Columbus to see Ryan play this year.

Looking back a little more than a year later since having his world rocked, Ryan told BSB recently he doesn't feel his father's illness was a weight on his shoulder. Instead, he used the battle to overcome cancer as inspiration.

"Seeing the burden on him and how he handled what he went through was unbelievable," Ryan said. "It's another thing for me to look up to. I've looked up to him my whole life."

The statistics show that Dzingel's play did not suffer. Over the final 16 games after the Northern Michigan series he had 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) to finish as the Buckeyes' leading scorer for the season with 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points.

Included were three assists in the deciding third game of the CCHA quarterfinals series vs. Ferris State, a 3-2 win that sent the Buckeyes to the league semifinals for the first time since 2005.

Dzingel (6-0, 187 pounds) has continued to set the pace this season as OSU has competed in the inaugural season of the Big Ten's hockey conference.

The candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, led the conference in overall scoring with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 34 games. His goal total tied Michael Mersch of Wisconsin for the lead.

Dzingel also was the top scorer in conference-only play with 24 points (12-12) in 20 games, again tying Mersch atop the goal chart. Dzingel is the second consecutive OSU player to win a conference scoring title following Fritz topping the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2012-13.

In a March 8 shootout win vs. No. 1 Minnesota on Ohio State's Senior Day in Value City Arena, Dzingel was a key piece of OSU's comeback, scoring a third-period goal and assisting on another before twice nearly netting the game winner in OT.

"I thought that Dzingel really raised his game tonight and was a real factor in the third period, and that is what you expect the leading scorer in the Big Ten to do," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.

In addition, he posted two goals in this past Friday's win vs. Penn State.

"Ryan Dzingel is fantastic," Nittany Lions head coach Guy Gadowski said. "We didn't have an answer for him."

Earlier this season, Dzingel had an eight-game goal streak snapped Dec. 29 against Mercyhurst but had three assists vs. the Lakers. In his next game against Michigan State he recorded the first hat trick in conference history.

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"He's gotten better doing the little things and being more responsible around the net, shooting the puck," junior teammate Nick Oddo said. "Coach always stresses he's got to shoot the puck more. He creates a lot of offense. He works hard and is a good player to be around."

Former OSU coach Mark Osiecki harped on Dzingel his first two years to fire the puck more, and the forward is finally doing that under first-year head coach Steve Rohlik.

"I've always tried, especially my freshman year, to be receptive and hear that message, but growing up I've been a skilled player who likes to make plays and pass the puck," Dzingel said. "That's just my identity and the type of player I thought I was. I've grown in my shot and trust it now."

In fact, his 103 shots are second on the team to junior Max McCormick's 105.

"I'm always going to be a pass-first guy, but I know I need to shoot the puck more," Dzingel said. "When I get the opportunity to shoot and I'm open, I'll take it more than I used to."

Rohlik enjoys seeing Dzingel put up points, but he's just as pleased by his development off the puck. Dzingel had a minus-9 on the plus/minus ledger last season but is at plus-13 this time around.

"The thing that impresses me the most about Ryan is his complete game," Rohlik said. "No one ever thought he'd be killing penalties. He's been killing penalties all year. Ryan does a lot of good things besides scoring points."

Even so, Dzingel admits that aspect of the game wasn't on his radar when he entered the program.

"I came here as a freshman and never played PK and was never focused in the D-zone, a guy who would go out late in the game," he said. "I've been working with the coaches a long time."

He's proved that concentrating on defense won't hinder his offense, and Feb. 15 he registered an assist against Wisconsin to become the first OSU junior since current Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger to reach 100 career points (40-60).

"I've been fortunate to be around some pretty good players in my 23 years of coaching," Rohlik said. "His skill set is right there. You've certainly got to do a lot of good things to get to 100 points, in your junior year yet.

"He puts himself in position. He's had very good teammates around him, but at the end of the day he works at his craft, he spends hours on his craft. I see a big jump in his overall game. I attribute that to a lot of success. He's scored points at every level."

The question becomes when will Dzingel take the next step in his career? The seventh-round selection of the Ottawa Senators in the 2011 NHL draft said now is not the time to be thinking about turning pro after this season.

"Obviously it's around and I understand that, but I've talked to Coach about it and I'm just focusing on winning here," he said. "I've never been able to make the (NCAA) tournament here at Ohio State so we're focusing on that."

If he does make it to the NHL at some point it would fulfill a dream to play at the highest level even if it isn't in a sport his father had hoped. Ryan was a shortstop for him in high school and thought of pursuing a scholarship.

"I played baseball my whole life and was planning to play in college before I went the hockey route," he said. "It was a tough decision but once I got drafted I realized hockey was probably my best choice. I love hockey a little bit more so I chose hockey. My dad regrets it a little bit because he wishes I played baseball, but it worked out well.

"I miss baseball but there are no regrets."

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