July 28, 1999
Entering last season, more than a handful of college hockey fans were prepared to watch what they had called a fluke Final Four team flop on its collective head.
The result? A second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
Ohio State head coach John Markell will look to his team for that same kind of resiliance entering the 1999-00 season. The Buckeyes attempt to recover from the loss of two All-Americans and a wealth of experience up the middle from last years squad.
Without question, defense will be the strong suit of the 1999-00 OSU team. The development of a potential-laden offense will be crucial to the team earning its third straight NCAA Tournament berth, and Ohio States goaltending, to the surprise of many people around the CCHA but not to Buckeye hockey fans, should be extremely strong.
DEVELOPMENT IS THE KEY
Two talented and experienced wingers – senior Eric Meloche (11-16-27) and junior Jean-Francois Dufour (9-15-24) – should provide a large chunk of Ohio States offense this season. Meloche, who enters the season just three points shy of 100 for his career, finished his sophomore season with 48 points – including 26 goals. Last year, nagging injuries visibly slowed him for months. He played in only 34 games and collected 26 points. Dufour, an honorable mention CCHA all-Rookie team performer two seasons ago, has averaged 25 points per year in his first two seasons and was one of Ohio States most consistent performers in the second half last year. Meloche and Dufours scoring chances may hinge on the development two centers – sophomore Mike McCormick (1-1-2) and junior Vinnie Grant (5-11-16) – that face the undaunting task of replacing All-American Hugo Boisvert and Chris Richards. McCormick, a sought after recruit and superb skater, played in 14 games last season before missing the second half to concentrate on his studies. Grant, who like McCormick came to OSU under the pressure of heavy expectations, has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two years, but has not been as consistent as he will need to be this year. Seniors Louie Colsant (6-8-14) and Jason Selleke (2-2-4) return to anchor Ohio States checking line. They might be joined by sophomore Nick Ganga (4-4-8), who played in 35 games last year. Dont be surprised if that line produces some unexpected offense, either. All three of those players were prolific scorers in junior hockey, but have failed to find their scoring touch in college. The OSU coaching staff has high expectations for redshirt freshman center Ryan Smith (0-2-2). A great skater with an excellent shot, Smith played in eight games last year before being granted a medical redshirt. Certain freshman will see playing time immediately this year. Miguel Lafleche (Hawksbury Hawks), a projected NHL draft pick before sustaining a midseason injury last year, will figure heavily into OSUs offensive scheme. Former Springfield Blues linemates Nic Boileau and T.J. Latorre will also battle for playing time right away.
THE STRONG SUIT
Ohio State returns all six defensemen from last years squad and adds an NAHL all-star with a healthy last name. Second-team all-CCHA pick Andre Signoretti (3-21-24) will make a run at All-America honors this year. An elusive puck-handler, Signoretti finished last season tied for fourth among defensement in league scoring. Ryan Jestadt (9-3-12), winner of last years Most Improved Player Award, tied for the league lead in goals scored by a defenseman in CCHA games (8). Jason Crain (3-14-17) used his summer vacation to be selected in the 3rd round of the NHL entry draft by the Los Angeles Kings. An offensive-minded defenseman that loves to join the rush, Crain could develop into the leagues premier defenseman in the next three years. Ohio States top two defensive defensemen, Ryan Skaleski (2-0-2) and Scott Titus (2-7-9), also return. Skaleski is a fiery, big blueliner that takes up a lot space in front of the OSU net. Titus won the teams Rookie of the Year award last seson. Jaisen Freeman (3-3-6), who played in 35 games last season, brings a big shot and added strength to OSUs defensive corps. Freshman and former NAHL all-star Peter Broccoli will challenge for playing time immediately on defense. Broccoli, likened to current Buckeye Andre Signoretti by the OSU coaching staff, led his Detroit Compuware team to the Junior A National Championship last season.
Many teams would panic over the thought of losing All-American goalie Jeff Maund to the National Hockey League after only two years. Not Ohio State. Ray Aho, who has served as a more-than-capable backup to Maund the past two seasons, will be the leading candidate for the job entering fall camp. Over the past two seasons, Aho has put up numbers similar to Maunds (2.46 GAA, .913 sv. pct.). Two years ago as OSUs regular goalie, Aho earned honorable mention CCHA all-Rookie team honors. Freshman Peter Wishloff will battle Aho for playing time. Wishloff led his team to the Royal Bank Cup, Canadas Junior A national championship, in 1998 and was named the tournaments Most Valuable Player.
TIMES ARE CHANGING
Nebraska-Omaha begins its inaugural season in the CCHA this year. The Mavericks have been competing as an independent at the Division I level since the 1996-97 season. With the addition of UNO, the CCHA playoff format has been restructured. Ten teams will now qualify for the leagues postseason, with five hosting the first round, best-of-three series. After the first weekend when five teams remain, the teams will be reseeded and No. 5 will go to No. 4 for a one-game play-in game to the CCHA Championship in Joe Louis Arena. The NCAA has also made a slight adjustment to its tournament format this season. After regional play is completed (March 24-26), the remaining four teams will have two weeks, as opposed to usual one, to prepare for the Frozen Four (April 7-9), held this year in Providence, R.I.
MORE TO COME
Ohio State is one of of only eight schools in the country that has had at least three All-Americans over the past two seasons.
ON THE UPSWING
After 13 straight seasons of finishing in fifth place or lower, Ohio State has now claimed third place for two consecutive seasons in the CCHA. After not qualfiying for the NCAA Tournament for 34 consecutive years, Ohio State has now received an invitation to the tournament for two straight seasons.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Ohio State has had seven freshman earn some type of all-Rookie team honors (either first team or honorable mention) the past three seasons, tying for the most in conference with Michigan. OSU joins Notre Dame as the only school to place someone actually on the all-Rookie team for three consecutive seasons (Jason Crain, 1999, Jeff Maund, 1998, Hugo Boisvert, 1997).
TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Two Ohio State underclassman signed professional contracts with NHL teams over the summer. All-American goaltender Jeff Maund signed a deal with Chicago Blackhawks. Hobey Baker finalist and two-time All-American Hugo Boisvert inked a pact with the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
IN THE WINGS
One promising young defenseman will practice with the Buckeyes this season but will not see any live game action. Eric Skaug, a product of the national runner-up Omaha Lancers, will be forced to sit this year out because of prior Major Junior experience. Skaug, voted the the best defenseman last season on a team with four blueliners that are headed to the college ranks, will seek reinstatement of his eligibility next season.