Ohio State Set for Big Ten Semifinal Showdown with Penn State

By Aubrey Nelson on March 15, 2019 at 3:45 pm
Senior defenseman Sasha Larocque leads the Buckeyes into battle against Penn State.
Ohio State Athletics

With their first-ever regular season Big Ten title in the bag, the men’s hockey Buckeyes are ready to chase a new prize: their first-ever B1G tournament title. No. 1 seed Ohio State takes on No. 4 seed Penn State in a single elimination semifinal at the Schott this Sunday, March 17, at 3:30 p.m.

Semifinal Info Sunday 
Opening Faceoff 3:30 p.m. ET
Television BTN
Local Radio 1460 AM
Online Stream BTN2Go ($)

OSU used the conference champion’s quarterfinal bye to hit the reset on a rough stretch run. The only consistent thing about the team was its inconsistency. Injuries to key players plagued the entire second half of the season.

The Bucks own just one outright win in their last six games. They’ve been a little off on both sides of the puck. Offensive production has dipped about half a goal per game. At the same time, OSU’s average goals-against has ballooned from 2.08 (25 goals allowed in first 12 games of the second half) to 3.17 (19 surrendered in the last six games).

Recent struggles aside, Mason Jobst says the Buckeyes are ready to get their postseason run underway. “This is the fun time of year,” said the OSU captain. “This is why we play and we work so hard all throughout the year. It comes down to one game. This team’s been there before, the last couple of years. We’re comfortable in these situations. This is what it’s all about.”

  • Read about Jobst’s journey to and at Ohio State in this article from OSU Athletics.

Ohio State’s opponent in the Big Ten semifinal is Penn State. The fourth-seeded Nittany Lions needed all three games of their quarterfinal series plus a little overtime to dispatch fifth-seeded Wisconsin. They carry all the momentum into this week’s matchup with the Buckeyes. They’re 8-3-0-0 since the beginning of February and with a ridiculous 4.73 goals per game average in that span.

The latest scouting report on PSU reads like all the others. But since you might just be joining us here in hockey land, here’s a refresher: The Nittany Lions are the nation’s No. 1 offense. They boast three of the NCAA’s top 10 scorers, five 35+ point-getters, and seven players with 14+ goals.  

“We’re very familiar with Penn State,” noted Jobst. “They play the same type of game every time.” The senior forward continued, saying, “They have some really special players over there that have put up a lot of points and been successful this year. They like to put on a lot of pucks on net so blocking shots will be an emphasis.”

Penn State’s weakness is its defense and goaltending. Only three teams in college hockey rank worse than the Nittany Lions in goals-against per game. While they post a ton of shots, they give up a bunch too and - though he held up satisfactorily in past campaigns - starting goaltender Peyton Jones has struggled under the onslaught this season (3.41/.898).

The main reason for PSU’s late-season success was a significant improvement in its defensive numbers. The Nittany Lions surrendered three or fewer goals-against in seven of their last 11 contests. If this trend continues the Bucks could be in trouble.

  • The rejuvenation of Buckeye forward and Blue Jackets prospect Carson Meyer was the focus of a recent NHL.com article.

Ideally, the Buckeyes emerge from the bye week refreshed, refocused, and back to their early-February form. They make good use of their hard-earned home ice advantage and skate strongly and deeply into the postseason. Worst case scenario, OSU meanders sluggishly out of the bye week. The Bucks get in penalty trouble, fall behind PSU’s rabid offense early, and swiftly exit not only this tournament but the next one.

If the Buckeyes do get off to a slow start this week it will fall to their goaltender to hold the fort until team can get back on track. While head coach Steve Rohlik has yet to indicate whether he’ll go with Sean Romeo or Tommy Nappier to start the semifinal, Jobst says the team has total faith in whichever netminder gets the call.

“[Goaltending] is one of the reasons we’ve been one of the best teams in the country this year,” praised Jobst. “Regardless of who’s in net, we’re very confident either way. [Romeo and Nappier] bring their A game every single time so it doesn’t really matter to us who they go with.”

Ohio State and Penn State square off in their single-elimination semifinal matchup at the Schott on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. BTN and BTN2Go have the coverage. Should the Buckeyes advance to the championship game, they will host that tilt at the Schott the following Sunday, March 24 at noon.

Award Watch

Several Buckeyes are up for big end-of-season honors. These are the Bucks in the running. The Big Ten will announce its winners, along with its all-conference teams next Tuesday. In other words, tune in on Tuesday for a list of Scarlet and Gray victories.   

  • Tommy Nappier, So. G, Mike Richter Award (semifinalist) and Big Ten Goalie of the Year (finalist)
  • Sasha Larocque, Sr. D, Big Ten Defenseman of the Year and Senior CLASS Award (finalist)
  • Mason Jobst, Sr. F, Big Ten Player of the Year (finalist)
  • Steve Rohlik, Big Ten Coach of the Year (finalist)
  • Tommy Parran, Sr. D, Hockey Humanitarian Award (finalist) 
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