After some tense moments over the last week, the Ohio State men’s hockey team got what it wanted: a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“I haven’t come out and said it but we’ve talked a lot about our goals and where we end up wanting to be and our number one goal and our only goal this year to set was let’s get to the tournament,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said.
Well, the Buckeyes are there. Specifically, they’re in Fargo, North Dakota to take on Minnesota Duluth, the second overall seed in the tournament and top seed in the West Regional. The Bulldogs were ranked number one in the polls for several weeks throughout the season and own the nation’s eighth-best scoring offense and 11th-best scoring defense.
Buckeyes are heading to NCAAs!
— Ohio State Men's Hockey (@OhioStateMHKY) March 19, 2017
Ohio State, meanwhile, was one of the last teams to make it into the NCAA Tournament, receiving an at-large bid after losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. But don’t let that fool you — the Buckeyes are dangerous.
They are the country’s second-highest scoring team, averaging nearly four goals per game, and own the top power play in the NCAA, converting on better than 32 percent of their power play opportunities. Sophomore Mason Jobst has tallied 55 points this season while senior captain Nick Schilkey is one of the country’s most prolific goal scorers, netting 27 in 34 games.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 23, 2017
Back in the Dance
With those things considered, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Buckeyes hang with or even beat the Bulldogs, especially if Ohio State’s offense is clicking. But the fact that the Buckeyes are still playing at all is a big deal for the program. This marks Ohio State’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
“I know I’ll be excited and a big thing we’ve talked about too is you never know if you’ll get this chance again. It’s my first time being there so obviously it’s very exciting,” Schilkey said. “You can’t take it for granted and that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about. Whether you’re freshman to senior, you gotta make sure that you go up there and just take advantage of this opportunity.”
Who wants to have some fun in Fargo? pic.twitter.com/jFJ0tmkEGP
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 19, 2017
Rohlik is in his seventh season with the Buckeyes, his fourth as the team’s head coach. While this marks his first NCAA Tournament trip with Ohio State, he’s no rookie to the event. Rohlik helped coach Minnesota Duluth to two tournament berths before joining the Buckeyes and won a national title during his playing days at Wisconsin.
“I’ve been there a few times as a player and a coach and I’ll do everything I can, and our staff, to kind of let them know what it’s all about,” Rohlik said. “But part of the experience is enjoying it for the first time too and I think that’s something that we’re gonna try to do.
“This program hasn’t been there in a while … certainly we’re humbled and we’re excited but our group’s gonna be ready.”
Making the NCAA Tournament is something to celebrate, particularly for a program making that trip for the first time in eight years. But the Buckeyes emphasized that they aren’t simply happy to be there.
“We can’t be satisfied with just getting there and the excitement of finally being in the tournament,” Jobst said. “We gotta go out there and really compete. We’re there to win and we know we can win.”
Taking on one of the country’s top teams is a tough task for Ohio State, to be sure. It’s made even more difficult by the fact that the team will be missing senior defensemen Josh Healey(suspension) and Drew Brevig(injury). But as postseasons in all sports and at all levels teach us time and again, there’s a reason why the games are played.
“Once you get there, anything can happen,” Rohlik said.
For the first time in a while, the Buckeyes are there. Now, we’ll see what happens.
Jeff is a college hockey and Columbus Blue Jackets contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a former TV sports reporter who has covered, broadcasted, coached and played hockey at various levels. You can follow him on Twitter @jeff_schaffer13