There are no easy weekends in the Big Ten.
After an up and down home series against No. 10 Minnesota, the No. 3 Michigan hockey team travels to Columbus to take on No. 17 Ohio State this weekend. The Wolverines lead the Golden Gophers by only one point atop the Big Ten standings, and the third-place Buckeyes trail just five points behind first place. As conference play heats up, Michigan has an opportunity to create some separation from the rest of the pack.
Historically, the Wolverines have dominated Ohio State. In head-to-head matchups, Michigan has accumulated an all-time record of 82-46-14 against the Buckeyes.
The first step to building on that number is handling Ohio State’s physicality. In years past, a sweep in Columbus might’ve been a foregone conclusion for Michigan. This year feels different, though, as the Buckeyes boast their best team in three years and the usual separation is less noticeable.
“They’re very structured,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They play sound defensively. They make it hard for you to get to the net. They’re gonna come after us, they usually play fairly physical. We’ve seen them get into some high penalty games, so we’re gonna have to play with some discipline.”
In its series against Notre Dame, Michigan struggled with the Irish’s size and aggressive play. It lost battles down low and had a hard time entering the offensive zone. Its speed was minimized and its talent was bottled up. The Wolverines will most likely have to deal with a similar play style when they visit the Buckeyes.
Much like Michigan, Ohio State relies on underclassmen to carry the scoring load. The Buckeyes’ top three scorers are all freshmen, led by defenseman Mason Lohrei (two goals, 10 assists), who is among Ohio State’s four NHL draft picks.
In addition to Lohrei, the tight defense is spearheaded by co-captain Will Riedell and goaltender Jakub Dobes, who sports an impressive 2.15 goals against average. They will attempt to shut down an explosive Michigan offense that averages 4.2 goals per game.
History aside, the Wolverines are focused on their next two games.
“They’re a good team,” sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau said. “Every time you get a Big Ten matchup you know it’s going to be a good game. I think they’re gonna bring a lot of intensity. They’re gonna be in their barn trying to defend their home ice.”
Michigan has had a bright spotlight on it since before the season started. As a result, opposing teams are that much more energetic and away crowds are that much louder. This attention has not derailed the Wolverines, though. Michigan has been stellar away from Yost Ice Arena, posting a 5-0-0 record during away contests.
“We’ve been good on the road,” Pearson said. “I think we’re all excited to get on the road again and get together as a group and see what we can do.”
In Columbus, the Wolverines will look to expand their Big Ten lead and deter their rival’s season. Standing in their way is a fast and hungry group of Buckeyes, and Pearson knows the challenge that awaits them:
“More than anything, we have to play our game.”