Sept. 13, 2004
Fresh off one of the most remarkable seasons in Ohio State hockey annals, when Ohio State claimed its first Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament championship since 1972, the Buckeye hockey team will be looking to make a run at another title – a national championship. Should it make it to college hockey’s pinnacle, the NCAA Frozen Four, they won’t have to travel very far to be part of the festivities.
The Frozen Four will begin with the first three rounds played at regional sites throughout the country and will culminate with the semifinal games April 7 and the national championship game April 9. The event, to be held in Value City Arena in The Jerome Schottenstein Center on The Ohio State University campus, will be the first time the event will be played in an on-campus arena since 1983 when the University of North Dakota played host to the tournament. However, this year’s Buckeyes don’t just plan on watching the game – they plan on playing in the games and winning the national championship.
“Last year was a great season,” Rod Pelley, who tallied 22 points last season as a sophomore, said. “We had a pretty solid regular season capped with an exciting CCHA Super Six championship. However, we faltered against Wisconsin in the NCAA first round, losing 1-0 in overtime. This season we have a chance to do something no other team, to my knowledge, has done in quite some time, win the national championship in our home arena. This is going to be an exciting season.”
The Buckeye hockey team, which saw many highs and lows over the course of the 2003-04 regular season, came together as a team at the end of the year and in the CCHA playoffs, making an impressive run to the championship with a first-round home series sweep against Bowling Green and heart-pounding overtime wins against both Notre Dame and Miami at the Super Six Championship in Detroit. After playing two exhausting games with no time to rest, Ohio State faced-off against two-time defending champion Michigan and without missing a beat won the game 4-2 to claim the CCHA championship for the first time in 32 years. “Winning the CCHA championship was an unbelievable feeling,” Lee Spector, senior forward, said. “But to win against your biggest rival, on what seemed liked their home ice, was even more amazing. I think the enthusiasm from the win over Michigan in the CCHA championship is something we can ride into this season.”
Having the 2005 NCAA National Championship played on the Buckeyes’ home ice will be the driving force for the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team. And with the return of 15 letterwinners, including team captain JB Bittner, CCHA Super Six All-Tournament selections Rod Pelley and Dave Caruso as well as All-CCHA Honorable Mention choice Nate Guenin, the Buckeyes are ready to make a championship run.
“We think we have tons of momentum coming into the 2004-05 season,” Bittner said. “All of our guys are excited and ready to play again. Everyone is excited about having the Frozen Four on our home ice and we definitely want to be there competing, not watching from the stands. We don’t want to have any other team but our own dressing in our lockerroom in April.”
The Buckeyes know having the Frozen Four at the Schottenstein Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, however, getting there won’t be easy and the squad has outlined several short-term goals they believe will help them accomplish their ultimate goal of winning the national championship.
“To be able to play at home for the national championship is an exciting thought,” Pelley said. “But we can’t overlook the fact the season is long and grueling, so we set up short-term goals to help us through. We want to win the CCHA tournament again and have a Top 3 ranking in the nation. All of these will assist in accomplishing our goal of winning the national championship.”
The Buckeyes certainly will have motivation. Aside the fact Ohio State hosts the national championship this year the Buckeyes will feed off the bitter taste of not advancing past the first round of the tournament since 1998 and being beat 1-0 the last two times they competed in the tournament.
“There is a sense of urgency to get back to the NCAA tournament,” Pelley said. “We haven’t scored a goal in our last two years at the tournament. It makes us a hungry and dangerous team in this season’s NCAA tourney.”
Should the Buckeyes’ goal of making the Frozen Four be accomplished, there will not be the feeling of “just happy to be here.”
“We will be excited to play in the Frozen Four this year if we make it there,” Spector said. “However, just being there won’t be enough. If we are good enough to get there then I know we will be good enough to win the national championship. We will not settle for anything less.”
Spector knows what kind of team it will take to win the national championship and thinks Ohio State possesses the attributes to accomplish the goal.
“I have seen what kind of teams make the Frozen Four and win the national championship,” Specter said. “Teams like Boston College, Maine and Minnesota usually have a solid core of leaders, a strong defense, a consistent offense and strong goaltending. I believe we posses all of those skills this season. We have a proven leader in our captain, JB Bittner. David Caruso is a solid goaltender and our defensive skills are excellent. Combine all of these factors with our strong work ethic and I think we have a championship caliber squad.”
In light of the excitement of this coming season there also will be challenges the team will have to face. One of them will be not overlooking the schedule, which includes the ever-competitive Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State and making sure the 11 newcomers understand how much this season means to the rest of the team.
“We will be pushing the incoming freshmen to work hard and helping them understand the implications of this season,” Pelley said. “It will be up to our leaders to keep the freshmen and the rest of the team focused each and every game.”
According to Bittner, the Buckeyes are finished with playing the role of just another tournament team who only makes it to the first round and goes no farther. He believes they are now ready to make a run for the championship.
“The fact we host the Frozen Four is all the incentive we need,” Bitner said. “We understand and know what kind of work it will take to win the national championship. We know how to get where we need to be in April. Now we just have to do it.”
Ohio State appeared in the 1998 Frozen Four, falling to Boston College in the semifinals. None of the players on this season’s squad were involved in the 1998 tournament, but have heard what it was like from former players.
“From some of the former players I talked with, and even talking with Coach (John) Markell, the event sounds awesome,” Pelley said. “We had a taste of what it might be like playing in the NCAA first round, with police motorcades escorting us from our hotel to the arena, and more first class treatment I am sure being in the Frozen Four the atmosphere is much more exciting.”
With only a few short weeks before the start the 2004-05 season against New Hampshire Oct. 9, the Buckeyes are primed and ready to make history and claim their first national championship. With Markell leading the way, Ohio State will be poised to make its run.
“We are hungry to succeed and have the desire to win,” Bittner said. “The only incentive we need is knowing our home ice is the site of the Frozen Four. I am looking forward to the challenge of doing my best to help us get there. Our team has the character and the drive and in just a few weeks it will be time to begin our quest.”