Before the season began, there were no signs that this Ohio State men’s hockey team was going to do something only one other team in the program’s history had ever done.
There were no signs following a season-opening 7-4 exhibition loss to Ryerson and two 1-1 ties with an RPI team that went 6-27-4 that this Ohio State team would eventually dominate the defending national champions end-to-end for 60 minutes on the way to the Frozen Four.
There were no signs. Yet, this is where the Buckeyes stand — two wins away from their first-ever national championship.
“I’d love to see your guys’ brackets and who you guys picked,” junior forward Dakota Joshua said. “Not a lot of people had us coming out of this side. So, it just feeds our game and helps us play better for sure. But hopefully people know who we are now.”
It’s safe to say people know what Ohio State is now: a team that dispensed a Princeton squad that came in winning seven in a row and a team that beat Denver, which spent seven weeks as the top-ranked team in college hockey, by a resounding score of 5-1.
“We just played one of the best teams in the country,” head coach Steve Rohlik said Sunday. “Defending national champs, they’ve been rated one or two all year. Any time you can go out there and go toe-to-toe and put in a good effort … it feels pretty good.”
The Buckeyes are back in the Frozen Four, a place they haven’t been since 1998, when they were quickly shown the door in a 5-2 beatdown by Boston College.
This time around, Ohio State will be looking to improve on history in two respects. Not just searching for its first-ever national championship game, but doing so by avenging its 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota Duluth that eliminated the Buckeyes from the NCAA tournament a year ago.
Runner-ups last year, the Bulldogs are a formidable opponent. But they will not be facing the same Ohio State team they squeaked by in overtime last year, and Denver head coach Jim Montgomery learned that the hard way.
“They play like that, they’ll be national champions,” Montgomery said after the loss to Ohio State. “They were better than us tonight in every facet.”
It might have taken 20 years to return, but Ohio State showed it deserved the top seed in the Midwest region. After a full season of playing in the nation’s toughest conference — the Big Ten owns three of the teams in this year’s Frozen Four — the Buckeyes will look to make even more history in their already historic season.
Just a year removed from its last tournament run, Ohio State enters its semifinal matchup with the nation’s top penalty kill, while ranking in the top 10 in team offense, team defense and power play. There were no signs of this from a team that lost every goalie on the roster, as well as its star forward, to graduation during the offseason.
There were no signs that this Ohio State team would turn a 1-3-3 home record into the second-best home record in the conference at 13-4-3. Now, there are signs Ohio State might do something in two weeks it has never done before: bring back a national title to Columbus.