Team of the Week: Ohio State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
When Ohio State was heading towards a rebuilding phase a couple of years ago, it figured it could weather the storm with a highly-touted goaltender coming out of the U.S. National Program — Joe Palmer, a fourth-round pick of Chicago.
But Palmer's career at Ohio State has been rocky at best, forcing OSU coach John Markell to scramble the last two years to plug the holes. The results, at times, have not been pretty, with no goalie in the last two seasons clocking in above a .900 save percentage — unheard of in this day and age.
That's what makes last weekend's performance by Dustin Carlson so uplifting. The sophomore was not as highly recruited as Palmer, and until this past weekend, hadn't really distinguished himself either. But back-to-back games outplaying Hobey finalist Jeff Lerg of Michigan State, including Friday's shutout — leading the Buckeyes to a weekend sweep of the No. 11-ranked Spartans — has thrust Carlson into the spotlight.
"You have to have consistent goaltending, that's what what we got," Markell said. "And we eliminated 'A'-grade opportunties."
Until then, Markell had been trying everything — Palmer, Carlson, and freshman Cal Heeter.
"They were making some saves, but letting in bad goals," Markell said. "That's just unsettling to the team. We've gone through it for two years and it's not good. We're trying to find a guy who can come in there and play hard — which they have — but what kind of goals they've been scoring (against us) is not good. The lack of focus is hard to accept.
"(Carlson is) a hard worker looking for an opportunity and he took care of it. He took care of himself and had a good summer.
"It's a calming effect."
This development means Palmer needs to do some serious work to get back his job, but he will be given that opportunity.
"Let's see how he'll fight back from controversy," Markell said, noting that Palmer has not had to fight for his job in a while. "With the under-18 team, the other guy was hurt, so he knew he'd start every game. ... Then when he came here, (Ian) Keserich had left early, and it left (Palmer) as the No. 1. And we had to bring in another guy too young (Nick Filion), and had to cut him.
"Now he's running into this, let's see how he responds. It should make him better, but not if he doesn't respond in the right way. If his behavior is giving up, 'I'm not gonna fight for this,' then I will be disappointed."
Meanwhile, Carlson has helped make Ohio State CHN's new Team of the Week. But there are other factors.
Through the ups and downs of the early part of the season, the name that has stood out most is freshman Zac Dalpe. A second-round NHL Draft pick of Anaheim last June, Dalpe already has six goals in 10 games, and has become a leader of this young team.
"He's a good team player, very passionate about the game, he practices hard, pays attention to off the ice — lifting, going to school — he's a good teammate, and he's driven," Markell said. "In practice, you tell him something, he does it.
"I told him, it's not about goals, it's about you being able to play the last minute of the game. If you're weak on faceoffs, weak in your own end, you're not going to be out there. But he's fought hard for that, he's wants to be that guy."
The team is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. There are only three seniors, and among them, only Corey Elkins is making a significant contribution. The only junior other than Palmer is forward Mathieu Picard.
"Picard is finally becoming the player we thought he could be," Markell said.
But there is plenty of talent in the younger classes, including six NHL Draft picks. One of them, a seventh-rounder by Florida, is Matt Bartkowski, a 6-foot-1, 203-pounder from Pittsburgh, who has thrilled Markell with his conditioning and hockey sense.
"I like the way they're playing together as a team. I like the way they're gelling," Markell said. "I like the way we're winning hockey games. Our play is not inconsistent. It's consistent first, second, third period.
"It's a different team than last year, different character guys, a different feel. It's been tough, but very educational. But they're hungry and getting payback for their hard work."
One of the people most responsible for the talent brought in the last two season, is no longer with the program. Assistant coach Casey Jones, who was with Markell every step of the way as the program rose out of the doldrums into consistent NCAA contender, left over the summer, returning to be an assistant at his alma mater Cornell.
The highly-regarded Jones had been wooed by Cornell before, but didn't go, awaiting a possible head coaching opening. But he finally decided to return to his alma mater, perhaps sensing that he was closer than ever to being Mike Schafer's successor with the Big Red.
"I lost a great associate," Markell said. "We were together for 13 years. I've known nothing else.
"I was sad to see him go. I was quite upset. We've been friends, not that we're not friends now. He calls and congratulates us. He still wants us to do well. ... He certainly could've left me high and dry — but he left me with 9, 10 freshmen again. And the next few years, we have small freshmen classes, and we have a chance to get back on a roll with (current assistants) Steve (Brent) and Jason (Lammers).
"We built this program together. It was fun."