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Big Ten Hockey Tournament 2014: Ohio State's "amazing" Christian Frey helping Buckeyes

The freshman goalie, despite joining the team mid-season, is one reason why the Buckeyes are one win away from the NCAA Tournament.

Christian Frey (30) has given up 2 goals in 2 Big Ten conference tournament games
Christian Frey (30) has given up 2 goals in 2 Big Ten conference tournament games

ST. PAUL- You have to give Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey credit. He called what the Buckeyes had to do Friday, and eventually did, to win against the top-ranked Gophers.

"We got to come out hard (Friday)," Frey said following OSU's first win, a 2-1 overtime victory over Michigan State. "We can't have the first like we did (Thursday) or we'll be down by a lot more quick. But just keep coming like we were in the second and the third, you know, and I think that we'll be fine."

With a much better start Friday that included Nick Schilkey giving Ohio State a 1-0 first period lead, the fourth-seed were able to win 3-1 thanks to Ryan Dzingel (Ottawa Senators draft pick) scoring midway through the third period and Frey standing tall late, making 30 saves to become the latest from the Dallas Metroplex to steal something hockey-related from Minnesota.

Now the Buckeyes are one win away from the first Big Ten conference tournament title. (It has won 2 CCHA tournament titles, with the last coming in 2004.) The win, and automatic NCAA Tournament bid that comes with the title, is something OSU is trying to keep in perspective and not look too far ahead. Saturday's championship game against second seed Wisconsin remains a do-or--die game.

A win keeps the team's season alive. A loss ends it.

Buckeyes first-year head coach Steve Rohlik has been here before, as an assistant on Minnesota-Duluth's 2009 WCHA Final Five championship team. That UMD squad also had to win three games in three days.

"I told (our team) it can be done. I was there," he said Friday. "I just told our guys, you know, you got two games behind you. I said that 'tomorrow you're going to feel great.' It's three games in three nights, but you also have another great opportunity to play another great team in Wisconsin.

"You're playing for a chance to get a Championship and play in the NCAA Tournament. I think our guys are pretty excited about that chance."

A big part of the Buckeyes' success has been the play of Frey, which literally came out of nowhere. Or more specifically Iowa. The 20 year-old began this season in Dubuque, playing for the Fighting Saints of the USHL before joining OSU at Christmas.

Frey's presence came at a critical time for Ohio State. Freshman Matt Tomkins (Chicago Blackhawks) was injured while sophomore Colin Olson (Carolina Hurricanes), the other choice to replace graduated senior goalie Brady Hjelle, transferred earlier in the season. At one point, Rohlik was carrying a club goalie on his team entering Big Ten conference play just in case Murphy's Law struck one more time.

The entire situation meant Frey started two games before stepping foot in class.

"Pretty amazing to step in the middle of the year without going through a grace period to get to know players, campus, anything," Rohlik said about his goalie.

Frey, who stated his favorite part of college so far has been being with all the guys on the team, has so far played in 15 games. He split time with Tomkins once the latter came back healthy yet the honors went Frey's way. This past week he was named to the Big Ten All-Rookie Team after compiling a .934 save percentage and allowing an average of 2.11 goals per game.

Even more, Frey has been in net 5 of the last 6 games. His quiet presence and game have resonated with teammates down the stretch. The Buckeyes are 9-3-3 when he's there.

"He's a great goalie, he's calm, he's cool," junior forward Tanner Fritz said. "We look for (Frey) to make some big saves and when he's there, he makes them. We couldn't be happier with him."

Off the ice, Frey shows that, taking his time answering questions and giving concise and thoughtful remarks. On the ice, the Arlington, TX native, listed at 5'10", 180 lbs, shows the same poise, cutting off angles, playing bigger than his size and being in the right position.

In two Big Ten tournament games, Frey has done what he's preached while giving up just two goals.

"You know what, he's got a quiet game. He's calm.  He doesn't say much," Rohlik said. "It's kind of how he goes through his routine every day. Practice, he's the same way. Since he's gotten here at Christmas, what you see here today is what he's brought since he's come to Ohio State."

Goaltending comes at a premium this time of the year. Good goaltending is necessary to keep seasons alive. Great goaltending can mean an extended run in single-elimination games.

Nothing is guaranteed, though. Ohio State could leave St. Paul, Rohlik's hometown, with a trophy. It's just as likely, however, that six months of motivation is on the horizon. Regardless, Frey is doing something remarkable and unseen to help the Buckeyes.

"I've seen Alex (Stalock) give up one goal in three games here when we won at Duluth," Rohlik said. "Pretty amazing there too. For a kid to step in at Christmas, which I haven't been around in my years of coaching, and do what he's done, I'd say it's pretty amazing.

For him to be in that company entering tonight is to use the two words Ohio State's head coach over-used to describe his freshman goalie.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --