Six months of blood, sweat, and tears have all boiled down to this. The men’s hockey Buckeyes are four wins away from a national championship. In a few minutes No. 3 seed Ohio State will open its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (ninth overall) with a matchup against No. 2 seed Denver.
|Opening Faceoff||4 p.m. ET|
|Online Stream||WatchESPN ($)|
“From what we’ve heard, [the Pioneers] are a lot like us,” said OSU defensive captain Sasha Larocque. “That’s going to be a challenge, to face a team similar to ourselves. They play a structured game, solid defensively, and they don’t give up a lot. That’s the way we aim to play the game too. It’ll be a real fun game.”
The Bucks and Pioneers are indeed similar teams. Both are capable of stifling defense and are backstopped by a tandem of terrific goaltenders. Their speedy offenses are powered by a core of superb scorers and supported by quality depth. But both teams have battled inconsistency throughout the year, equally likely on any given night to explode for five goals or have its offense go suddenly AWOL.
|Team Stats||Ohio State||Denver|
|Regional/Overall Seed||No. 3 / No. 9||No. 2 / No. 8|
|Records||20-10-5, 13-8-4-3 B1G||22-11-5, 14-11-3-3 NCHC|
|Avg. Goals For / Against||3.09 / 2.31||2.82 / 2.08|
|Power Play / Penalty Kill||21.4% / 81.4%||15.6% / 82.1%|
|Points Leader||Mason Jobst (36)||Liam Finlay (35)|
|Leading Goal Scorer||Mason Jobst (17)||Jarid Lukosevicius (18)|
|Top Goaltender||Tommy Nappier (1.91/.934)||Devin Cooley (1.85/.934)|
The number of similarities between the squads heightens the awareness of their two significant differences. It is in these differences that each team finds its greatest advantage in today’s matchup.
For one thing, there is a vast divergence in experience between the teams. This plays to OSU’s advantage. Denver is one of the nation’s youngest teams with 19 underclassmen and only three seniors. At 28 years old, the Pioneers’ first-year head coach David Carle is the youngest bench boss in college hockey.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are making their third straight tourney appearance under Steve Rohlik. The senior-heavy team knows exactly what to expect on this stage. After reaching the Frozen Four last season, it also has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to win at this level.
Denver’s advantage comes in the fact that it saw far more game action in March than Ohio State. The Bucks played a grand total of three games in the month. They’ve only seen action once in the last three weeks.
The Pioneers went 4-3-1-1 in March. They were bounced in last week’s NCHC semifinal by Duluth. However they come into the NCAA tourney off a confidence-boosting 6-1 victory over Colorado College in the conference’s consolation game.
If both squads can bring something approaching their best games, this will be a fantastic contest. The puck drops at 4 p.m. ET. The game is being televised on ESPNU. It can be streamed via WatchESPN. The victor advances to a Saturday night showdown with the winner of American International vs. St. Cloud State.