Ohio State No.17 braces for tough test against Michigan No.3

The Ohio State Buckeyes face the Michigan Wolverines in the faceoff before the Ohio State-Michigan game on February 20. Ohio State lost 0-6. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo editor

The Ohio State and Michigan men’s hockey teams are set to pick up the long-standing school rivalry on the ice this weekend.

The No.17 Buckeyes (9-5-0, 5-3-0 Big Ten) will host the No.3 Wolverines (13-5-0, 6-4-0 Big Ten) for a two-game streak on Friday and Saturday. Michigan will come to Columbus in great shape, having won three of its last four contests.

Head coach Steve Rohlik, who has been behind the Buckeyes bench for nine seasons now, has been at Columbus long enough to know his team will be under a microscope against the Wolverines.

“Anytime you can walk the ice – and especially with that rivalry – when you step onto campus here at Ohio State, you understand, in any sport, when you play with the team in the north, it ‘is special, ”Rohlik said.

Will Riedell, a graduated defenseman from Lake Superior State, recently saw the excitement and buzz surrounding the football game between the two schools and said he was ready to be a part of it on the ice.

“There’s a little more focus, I would say. Anytime Ohio State faces Michigan, that’s the highlight, ”said Riedell. “I think we’re all ready to go this weekend. Can’t wait to go to work.

The Wolverines led by Mel Pearson possess great firepower. Five Michigan skaters were drafted in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft, including four of the top five selections.

Fortunately for Ohio State, Michigan will be without second defenseman Owen Power and second defenseman Kent Johnson this weekend as they report to Hockey Canada for World Juniors camp. Power became number one overall for the Buffalo Sabers, while Johnson was selected fifth by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The absence of Power and Johnson is a blow to the Wolverines, as the two Canadians are currently tied for the team lead with 23 points.

Rohlik said he didn’t know Michigan would be deprived of two of their best players.

“I didn’t even pay attention,” Rohlik said. “I know who they are, I know how good they are, I know how many good players they have. We have to be at our best.

Without Power and Johnson, second-year forward Matty Beniers and fifth-year forward Michael Pastujov will have to carry the load. Beniers leads the Wolverines with 11 goals, while Pastujov scored three goals against Minnesota on Saturday.

Friday’s game will be the Buckeyes’ first look at Michigan since the Wolverines wrapped up their season at last year’s Big Ten Tournament. The series also offers the State of Ohio the opportunity to take a big leap in the ranking of the conference.

Ohio State currently sits third in the league with 15 points, five behind its rival’s 20. Two settlement wins this weekend would propel the Buckeyes to the top of the Big Ten, something the team is certainly aware of.

“We’re in the top three heading into the Christmas break for the Big Ten,” said senior defenseman Grant Gabriele. “These two games are super important.”

Sweeping away visitors is a daunting task, as Michigan has only lost back-to-back games once this season. One of the main reasons for this is his ability to put the puck in the back of the net. The Wolverines are averaging 4.17 goals per game, leading the Big Ten and fourth nationally.

Defense is a strength for the Buckeyes, as they sit second in the Big Ten with a 2.21 goals-against average. Rohlik said he believes his team have what it takes to slow down the powerful Corn and Blue attack.

“We just have to play with our structure. We know how good they are, ”Rohlik said. “We know how much they love to fly around the rink. They manipulate the puck. We must be us. We have to go out there, be disciplined in our structure, and our work ethic has to be out of this world. I think this is the most important thing. We need to be able to dig in and participate in these one-on-one battles. “

When the Buckeyes have the puck, they will try to break Michigan in committee. Although Ohio State does not have a player with more than 12 points, it is in the top 20 nationally with 3.29 goals per game.

Junior forward Tate Singleton is a Buckeye who has enjoyed individual successes against the Wolverines throughout his tenure at Ohio State. The West Lebanon, New Hampshire native has lit the lamp four times in nine career games against his team’s big rival.

Five Buckeyes – including Gabriele – come from the northern state. The Brighton, Mich. Native said playing against his state school always meant more to him personally.

“I don’t know why, but it seems like a lot of guys know people in Michigan for some reason,” Gabriele said. “Like I said, it’s just a little more personal when you know guys. It’s that fight that everyone has. I think individually it’s always a big weekend, but as a team it’s still two games that we have to win.

The face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday and 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Schottenstein Center. Both contests will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.

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