Team of the Week: Ohio State
by Sara Civian/CHN Reporter
Ohio State captain Mason Jobst and alternate captain Sasha Larocque spoke at different times and different places last week, but they used the same exact word: huge. Those four letters just about summed up the stakes for their team headed into its series with Minnesota.
The Buckeyes’ two, tough-earned wins (2-1 in OT, 4-1 with two empty netters) really couldn’t have come at a better time than last weekend. They’d been struggling without a conference win at home, so notching two in their last opportunity before the holiday break, against a team coach Steve Rohlik described as a measuring stick, was ideal for both postseason positioning and morale. They jumped from No. 12 to No. 8 in the Pairwise.
“Obviously it’s a good feeling going into break with two very close wins against a team you measure yourself against every year,” Rohlik said. “It was a good bounce-back weekend for our guys.”
A power-play goal from Tanner Laczynski got Ohio State on the board in the first period of Friday night’s overtime thriller, and Minnesota waited until 16:16 of the third to respond. Dakota Joshua set Christian Lampasso up at the far post for the game winner at 3:44 into overtime, but that moment wouldn’t have been possible without Ohio State’s NCAA-leading penalty kill going 5-for-5 and redshirt junior goaltender Sean Romeo’s 33 saves.
“I think the number one key has been our team defense,” Rohlik said. “Just buying in, blocking shots ... our penalty kill was very good, our goaltender was good. At the end of the day we’re doing it because of everybody when we’re having success.”
That kind of emphasis on defense is a departure from recent seasons, when the Buckeyes loved to run and gun. They can still score goals when needed, but the defense has tightened down. Of course, the goaltender is a big part of that.
Romeo, who was named the Big Ten’s first star of the week Tuesday, made 33 saves on 34 shots again in Saturday’s win. Ohio State’s penalty kill went 5-for-5 for the second consecutive night as well. Romeo, who transferred from Maine and sat out last season, was put in a tough position this season — the Buckeyes’ top three goalies were lost during the offseason. It looks like he’s embraced the challenge — at No. 9 in the NCAA, he’s held opponents to a 1.93 goals against average and boasts a .928 save percentage and 9-4-4 record.
Ohio State is 6-0-2 when scoring first, and although its No. 5-ranked defense has been a force, its 4-4-2 record when opponents score first, 1-0-4 overtime record, and 2.72 goals per game average indicate generating offense as something to work on moving forward. A decisive 4-1 win headed into break is as good a starting point as any. Rohlik will stick with his defensive-minded approach, though. And if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
“If we take care of our end, we’ll create offense,” he said. “Right now it’s probably a good time to finish finals, reset, go home, then come back and try to build on momentum. It’s all about our practice habits. It starts there.”
Ohio State has a 20-day break until it hosts Niagara Dec. 29. After that, it’s a full Big Ten slate. Aside from Notre Dame, which is dominating the conference with 30 points and a 10-0 record, it’s a tight race. Ohio State is second in the league with 16 points, and the next four teams are right behind it — Penn State has 15 points, Minnesota 14, Wisconsin 13, Michigan 12.
The Buckeyes have been “buying in” to Rohlik’s defensive-minded system, and the college hockey world saw it work against Minnesota. They “took care of their end” first, then came the chances. If the Buckeyes can keep buying in and getting comfortable with using defense as a gateway to offense, the wins should keep coming.