For the first time since the days of Hugo Boisvert, Andre Signoretti, and Jeff Maund, Ohio State is back in the men’s Frozen Four. The Buckeyes were a surprise when they made their first Frozen Four in 1998. This year, despite flying under the radar for much of the season, they are anything but. The Buckeyes came into the tournament ranked 4th in the nation thanks in large part to the third-best defense in the nation. After an impressive, dominating win over defending national champion Denver in the regional quarterfinal, Ohio State will be favored over Minnesota Duluth on Thursday night, and have a great shot at winning the entire tournament.
Ohio State has a head coach that was promoted to the job from assistant coach after the surprise firing of the previous head coach and two assistants that filled vacancies after the previous assistant left for the same position at a different school. On paper, that would seem to be a recipe for chaos. Instead, the Buckeyes have to be among the most well-coached groups in the country. With just two NHL draft picks in the line-up, the fewest of this weekend’s four teams, the Buckeyes don’t have a lot of conventionally attractive talent on their roster, but have shown a deep commitment to playing the disciplined, defensive style of hockey they want to play, and it has been incredible effective.
Here is Ohio State’s projected line chart for this weekend. Top-50 NHL prospects are bolded, Other potential NHL prospects listed in italics
15 Gerard 26 Jobst 9 Laczynski
10 Wiitala 8 Joshua 25 Kearney
19 K. Miller 40 Hein 18 Lampasso
27 Stork 14 Pooley 17 McCormick
3 Larocque 7 Ege
5 Myer 50 M. Miller
6 Parran 46 Joyaux
The first note is that Ohio State has been without top line center Matthew Weis, who scored 37 points in 37 games this season since the Big Ten semifinals. That’s a lot of points to take out of the line-up, and affects Ohio State’s scoring depth, especially up the middle, although they certainly showed no ill effects in blasting Princeton and Denver two weeks ago.
Losing Weis does make their line-up a little more top-heavy, which means they’ll need some scoring from that top line of Gerard-Jobst-Laczynski. There’s a lot of speed on both wings there. Laczynski especially has developed into one of the top prospects in college hockey. He has always been an elite skater, but this year added some muscle and physical edge to his game and has become a standout player.
Jobst is the guy that really personifies the Buckeyes though: consistently overlooked but really, really good. He has 128 points through his three years at Ohio State in an era where 100 points in a career is pretty good. He’s small, but strong and a really crafty playmaker with nice scoring touch. He was a guy I wouldn’t have minded seeing the US take to the Olympics this past winter because I really believe his hockey IQ is off-the-charts good, but alas.
With Jobst moving to that top line in Weis’ absence, Dakota Joshua slides up from being an elite third line center to being a really good second line center. Joshua is big, athletic and really mean, which makes him an incredible defensive player. Playing with a gritty left wing in Wiitala and a strong, physical wing in Kearney, the Buckeyes have the makings of an incredible shutdown defensive line. Against Minnesota Duluth, I would expect to see them this line match-up against the Tufte-Krieger-Anderson line as much as possible.
The Buckeyes got two huge goals from their third line in the regional final against Denver, but for the most part, I think they’d be satisfied to just break even with the bottom two lines, especially against Minnesota Duluth, with has a little more scoring depth in their line-up. The Buckeyes are here, after all, thanks to their suffocating, disciplined defense.
The blue line is a pretty non-descript group for the Buckeyes. They don’t create a ton of plays, but also don’t put themselves out of position very often. It’s a group of guys that stay within themselves, keep things simple, and do their job. The Buckeyes give up a decent amount of shots on goal per game, but only a small percentage of them are really high quality scoring chances. They’re also brutally efficient on the penalty kill, leading the country by killing off just a hair under nine out of every 10 PKs.
Sean Romeo, a transfer from Maine, has been terrific in goal this year. He’s sporting a .927 save percentage. I would put a lot of that on a really solid defense in front of him, but regardless, only about 2 pucks per game are getting in the net behind him. They’re tough to score on.
Keys to the Weekend:
- Don’t get caught up in the moment
Ohio State got here by being brutally efficient on defense. If they can maintain that composure on the (relative) big stage, they’re going to be tough to beat. If guys get caught up in the moment and start trying to do too much and extending themselves a little too far, they could be in trouble.
2. Keep it low scoring
With Weis out of the line-up, I don’t think getting into a shootout with a team like Minnesota Duluth is the way to go. Rely on the defensive presence of that second line, and get solid minutes out of the bottom two lines. The top line should be good for a goal or two. Let that be enough to advance.
3. Win with special teams
I think Ohio State can play anybody even at 5-on-5. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes scored on 23.9% of their power plays, while their opponents only score on 10.7% of theirs. That gap may not show itself over the course of a single 60-minute hockey game, but it is an area where the odds are tilted strongly in their favor.