Team of the Week: Ohio State
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Whether it's their impressive two-game sweep at Michigan's Yost Ice Arena, the stellar play of their senior netminder Cal Heeter, or their current position atop the CCHA standings, the Ohio State Buckeyes certainly have plenty for which to be thankful.
The Buckeyes head into their Thanksgiving break after winning two very different one-goal games at Michigan — a 2-1 victory on Friday in which Heeter stopped 29 shots to outduel Shawn Hunwick in the opposing crease, and a wild 6-5 win the following evening behind a combined 11 points from the trio of Alex Lippincott, Ryan Dzingel and Chris Crane.
In the end, it was a weekend of many firsts.
Among them, the sweep was Ohio State's first in Ann Arbor since February 1986 — before any current player on the Buckeyes team was even born. Unbeaten now in nine contests and improving to 10-3-1 overall, Ohio State has earned 23 of a possible 30 points in league play, good enough for first place in the league.
Beyond the impressive numbers, of course, is a very young team led by second-year head coach Mark Osiecki, who came to Columbus with a goal of changing the culture of Ohio State hockey.
And even after a weekend like this one — defeating a Michigan team that, just months ago, came within a bounce of winning the national championship — Osiecki remains reserved.
"We're fortunate where we're at right now," said the former Wisconsin assistant. "Our approach has not changed."
Perhaps Osiecki's reluctance to be overly enthused is because, last season, in 14 games from early November to early January, the Buckeyes went 10-3-1. Then, things fell apart, and Ohio State won just three of its final 16 games of the season.
This year, though, seems to be different already. With 12 freshmen on the roster, the Buckeyes are getting much-needed leadership from their core group of upperclassmen — among them, senior co-captains Sean Duddy and Cory Schneider.
Said Osiecki, "Everyone's doing it as a group. Duddy and Schneider — they're just going to be warriors on the ice. More importantly for us, the way they approach the Ohio State Athletic Department, how they carry themselves, speaks volumes to our young group.
"The keys for us, we're just trying to get better. Our young guys, going into Yost, not an easy place to play. We've got 12 freshmen on our roster, 10 in the lineup. That was an eye opener for them, to play against a team [like Michigan]."
On Saturday, with a goal and two assists, sophomore forward Chris Crane took over the team scoring lead. Crane now has seven goals and eight assists on the season and has two points more than the freshman Dzingel, one of just 10 rookies in the nation averaging a point per game. Dzingel was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week.
The offensive outburst on Saturday night helped the Buckeyes overcome a rare unsteady performance from Heeter, who improved to 9-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.96. The St. Louis native had allowed just three goals over a span of five games before Saturday and has noticeably instilled confidence in his teammates.
"He's continued to mature," said Osiecki of his netminder. "He's maturing on how to take care of his body, how to condition himself, how to do everything that goes across the board of being able to play back to back nights. He's evolved that way. He is a high-level goaltender, and he's maturing as a leader in the locker room."
Sophomore Alex Lippincott also found the scoresheet several times over the weekend, earning CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors after registering four points in Saturday's win.
And although almost every player shined over the course of the weekend, the Buckeyes know there is still room for improvement.
"Shift to shift, period to period, we're still looking for consistency," said Osiecki.
The Buckeyes have the week off before hosting Lake Superior Dec. 2-3 at Value City Arena in Columbus. As for the rematch against Michigan? It's a weekend to circle on the calendar for January.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines meet again in Columbus on Jan. 13, two days before their highly anticipated showdown in The Frozen Diamond Faceoff, Jan. 15 outdoors at Progressive Field in Cleveland — the home of Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians.