The last time the Ohio State men’s hockey team swept a series, the next few weeks didn’t go so well for the Buckeyes.
After taking all six points while visiting Michigan State on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, Ohio State entered a losing skid that eventually included just one win in 10 games.
That streak was ended last week when the Buckeyes captured their third Central Collegiate Hockey Association sweep of the season, as Ohio State earned 3-2 and 6-1 wins over visiting Lake Superior State in Value City Arena.
The trick is to keep those good vibes going this weekend when the Buckeyes host No. 9 Notre Dame Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Value City arena, but head coach Mark Osiecki doesn’t think that will be a concern after watching a few days of practice.
“I don’t think their attitudes changed one bit coming back right away with practice,” Osiecki said. “We didn’t have to get on them. We didn’t have to do anything differently. If anything, we had to ease up a bit.”
The third-year head coach mentioned giving the team Tuesday off as it tries to rest some weary legs with a month and change left in the regular season, and Wednesday’s practice was sharp in the eyes of the coaching staff.
The Buckeyes are continuing to build on the chemistry that started to show against the Lakers. Building that has been difficult all year given a number of injuries, and the team’s offense showed that fact, averaging less than two goals per game before last weekend.
Osiecki admitted some of the nine goals the team scored weren’t brilliant, more a function of throwing the puck on net than anything else, but he did like the fact the team was able to move from defense to offense and transition quickly on a number of the tallies.
“It’s fun for our staff to see that and see that get rewarded because they’ve been doing so many good things,” Osiecki said. “We just have to stick with it and remain patient.”
Looking for why the Buckeyes are showing much more life on offense of late? There might be no better reason than the returns to health of freshmen Anthony Greco and Sam Jardine.
The two first-year players – the former a forward, the latter a defenseman – were both injured in an early-November series vs. Alaska and missed a good chunk of the season, and both have returned since the year flipped to 2013.
They’ve both made an offensive impact in that time, as Jardine has four assists in his first six games back on the blue line, while Greco has two goals and two helpers in four contests.
Considering the two were sounding boards for one another when they were out, it’s only fitting they’re linked together as part of OSU’s resurgent offense.
“We kind of vented to each other a lot,” Greco admitted. “It was unfortunate that he was out, but it was also nice at the same time to have somebody with me. When the team left, he was here with me, so it was good to have him.”
Both are happy to be contributing in recent games, as well. Greco’s speed has added another dimension to the team’s offense, and he’s proved to be an opportunistic finisher as well.
“I’m an offensive forward, and it’s important to produce but not overlook playing strong defensively and getting back on the rush and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s been good.”
Meanwhile, Jardine is part of a power play that has started to show life with three man-up goals in the last three games.
“You get played wherever and you deal with that,” he said. “If I’m on the power play, that’s fantastic, and I’m going to try to do my best to help the team that way. I think that goes for everybody else on the team, but we’re going to work to adapt the roles that the coaches give us and work to make the best out of everything we’re given.”
Now, the key is for the two players to keep chipping in while getting more and more up to speed. The two must balance getting their legs back after the long layoffs while getting used to the speed of college hockey after missing much of the first half, but the Buckeyes glad to see what they can do.
“It’s been good so far,” Greco said. “The first weekend was a little tough but I think it’s slowly coming back. I think it’s been going pretty well so far.”
Flagging Irish Up Next
Notre Dame looked like it would run away with the CCHA title while winning 11 of its first 12 conference games, but the Irish have hit a skid that has dropped them to third in the league. Overall Notre Dame is 16-10-0, good for a tie for 14th in the PairWise rankings, with a 12-6-0-0 league mark. ND is the only team in the conference not to tie a game thus far.
The Irish is just 2-6 since the new year, including a five-game conference losing streak it snapped last Saturday with a win vs. Ferris State. Still, the team is second in the league with 2.85 goals per game and third in defense at 2.04 allowed, and it has 12 NHL draft picks including forward T.J. Tynan, who the Columbus Blue Jackets picked in the third round of the 2011 draft.
“They’re obviously coached very well, but they have high-end, blue-chip players,” Osiecki said. “You look up and down their roster at how many of those guys have been NHL draft picks, and a lot of those guys are going to play in the NHL. They have a blue-chip roster and are very deep.”
Anders Lee tops the CCHA with 14 goals on the season and has a team-high 23 points. Tynan has eight goals and 13 helpers, while Bryan Rust has a 6-12-18 line and Mario Lucia has 16 points in 17 games and participated on the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships, at which Osiecki was an assistant coach.
On the blue line, Robbie Russo leads the way with a 5-12-17 line while Kevin Lind is plus-12.
The teams last met in the CCHA quarterfinals a season ago, with the Irish winning a best-of-three series, 2-0, in South Bend.