Ohio State’s top-ranked puckmen open their 2018-19 campaign tonight at Arizona State (2-0-0). Yes, Arizona State has a hockey team. The Sun Devils are no joke. The Buckeyes did not bring their A game when the two met in Columbus in 2017 and ASU rallied late to tie the Bucks before prevailing in a shootout. Arizona State kicked off its season last week with back-to-back shutouts of Alaska-Fairbanks.
|Opening Faceoff||10pm ET||10pm ET|
|Online Stream||via ASU (free)||via ASU / Facebook Live (both free)|
We’re going to be burning the midnight oil following along this week as neither Friday nor Saturday’s games get started until after 10pm ET. But the late start leaves plenty of time for you to peruse our men’s hockey season preview and take in the Buckeye women’s conference opener vs. Minnesota State.
- Listen to pre-series interviews with head coach Steve Rohlik, defenseman Wyatt Ege, and senior forward Freddy Gerard.
Ohio State (26-10-5) turned heads in 2017-18 with a second place regular season finish in the Big Ten. The Bucks followed that with a strong postseason performance and the program’s second-ever trip to the Frozen Four. The Bucks were the nation’s No. 1 penalty killing team (89.4%) 2017-18.
They were also third in the nation in defense (2.07 goals against per game), tenth in offense (3.20 goals per game), and sixth overall on the power play (23.9%). Tanner Laczynski (17-30--47) claimed Second Team All-American honors, the eleventh Buckeye to do so. In his most successful season to date, Steve Rohlik was a finalist for Coach of the Year.
- See why John Buccigross considers the Bucks a top contender this season and places Laczynski on his long list for the Hobey Baker Award.
|Big Ten Coaches' Preseason Poll|
|1. Ohio State|
|3. Notre Dame|
|5. Penn State|
|7. Michigan State|
The Buckeyes begin 2018-19 with an unheard-of load of expectations. They open the season as the nation’s No. 1 team in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey polls. It is the first time in program history that Ohio State has topped either national poll. OSU is also the coaches’ preseason pick to top the stacked Big Ten. It is only the second time the Bucks have been the preseason favorite to win their conference.
The foundation of this rosy outlook is the fact that Ohio State returns a ton of players from last season, 21 in all. Eight of the Bucks’ top nine scorers are back including Laczynski, team captain and all-around beast Mason Jobst, and big game boss Dakota Joshua.
|1. Ohio State (18)|
|2. Notre Dame (12)|
|3. Minnesota-Duluth (8)|
|4. Providence (3)|
|5. St. Cloud State (4)|
|6. Minnesota (3)|
|8. Boston University|
Literal defensive rock Sasha Larocque leads a blue line corps that returns every defender save Matt Joyaux. Sean Romeo was as steady as they come in the Buckeye net last year. He will anchor the team once again and has already garnered some individual notice, earning a place on the Mike Richter Award preseason watch list.
Expect significant contributions from the Bucks’ senior class which includes Joshua, Jobst, Larocque, and Romeo, plus steady defender Tommy Parran, veteran scorers Freddy Gerard and John Wiitala, and the divinely irritating Brendon Kearney.
These returning players had a taste of NCAA tournament success but were far from satisfied with merely making an appearance in the Frozen Four. They are itching to make an even deeper postseason run.
- Check out season three, episode one of Kearney's Corner. Would you rather...?
Gaps to Fill
|USA Today / USA Hockey Poll|
|1. Ohio State (18)|
|2. Minnesota-Duluth (7)|
|3. St. Cloud State (4)|
|4. Notre Dame (3)|
|5. Providence (1)|
|6. Minnesota (1)|
|9. Boston University|
|10. Boston College|
The Buckeyes return a lot of quality players but they did lose some key pieces. Many pundits consider Matt Weis the team’s only major loss. It’s true, his point-per-game scoring pace is going to be missed. The outgoing senior was one-third of the Bucks’ electric top line and a big factor in the power play. There’s something to be said for chemistry and, however talented a scorer he may be, a new guy just might not mesh in those spots like Weis.
But the Buckeyes have other gaps to fill too. Matt Joyaux, the influential director of the OSU power play, graduated out. So did grinders Kevin Miller and Christian Lampasso. Miller and Lampasso were notable, not to mention clutch, contributors to the score sheet last year. The pair combined for 20 goals in the regular season and was responsible for nearly a third of the Bucks’ lamplighters in the NCAA tournament.
The New Crew
|NHL Drafted Buckeyes||Team (Draft Selection)|
|Miguel Fidler, RS-Jr. F||Florida Panthers (5th round, No. 143)|
|Dakota Joshua, Sr. F||Toronto Maple Leafs (5th round, No. 128)|
|Tanner Laczynski, Jr. F||Philadelphia Flyers (6th round, No. 169)|
|Carson Meyer, Jr. F||Columbus Blue Jackets (6th round, No. 179)|
|Ryan O'Connell, Fr. D||Toronto Maple Leafs (7th round, No. 203)|
Ohio State’s crop of new Buckeyes doesn’t feature any high-ranking stars but as a whole, they seem to be a talented group with a few more credentials than recent incoming classes. The most buzzed about player is Powell native and Blue Jackets prospect (6th round, No. 179) Carson Meyer. The junior forward could hardly be more Ohioan if he tried. Miami’s loss is OSU’s gain as the now-healthy Meyer transfers in and is eligible to play this season.
The Bucks also welcome defenseman and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ryan O’Connell (7th round, No. 203). Though they remain free agents, incoming forwards Quinn Preston and Gustaf Westlund have garnered interest from NHL clubs. They skated in prospect camps over the summer for the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers, respectively.
AJ Vanderbeck posted his second consecutive 60+ point season last year as he captained his Wenatchee Wild to a BCHL championship. Forwards Matt Jennings (Green Bay Gamblers) and Kamil Sadlocha (Madison Capitols) arrive USHL-battle tested. So does former Northern Michigan forward Collin Peters (Lincoln Stars) who opted for a second stint in the junior league in lieu of transferring. He joins Ohio State as a sophomore.
The B1G Challenge
While Ohio State should absolutely contend for the conference title this year and make a third consecutive NCAA tourney appearance, the Buckeyes are not going to glide blissfully through the regular season en route to tournament glory. The Big Ten is loaded again. It’s going to be another dogfight.
Michigan lost its top scoring line but returns much of the rest of its Frozen Four team including first-round NHL draft selections Quinn Hughes (7th overall, Vancouver) and Josh Norris (19th overall, Ottawa). Notre Dame also lost key contributors from its Frozen Four crew but the Irish are still anchored by reigning B1G Goalie and Player of the Year Cale Morris who can cover a multitude of sins and keep his team competitive.
Penn State took a hit with the early departure of the program’s all-time leading goal scorer Andrew Sturtz, but the Nittany Lions are nonetheless keen to make a third straight NCAA appearance. Minnesota, which missed last year’s NCAA tourney by fractions of a computer point, is already rolling under the new management of Bob Motzko. The Gophers kicked the year off with a huge upset of NCAA champ Minnesota-Duluth.
Little sustained success is expected from either Wisconsin or Michigan State but both are dangerous squads to overlook. The Spartans, in particular, are coming off their winningest season since 2014-15. Their roster boasts reigning B1G Rookie of the Year, Mitch Lewandowski and 40+ point-getter Taro Hirose. They’re forecast to finish last in the B1G again but I don’t think I’d bet anything important on that prediction.
Also, note that the Big Ten made changes to its overtime procedures this season. A tie game at the end of regulation is still followed by five minutes of sudden death 5-on-5 action. If no winner emerges, the teams will skate 3-on-3 for five minutes. And if no one has scored by that point then the game will go to a shootout because five-hour contests are totally no big deal and it’s not like any of us have to get up for work on the weekends or put kids to bed at a decent hour or anything, Big Ten.