Ohio State Report

By Josh Caton
There’s been no happy New Year for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Mired in the midst of the five game losing streak including losses to Cornell, Clarkson, and three defeats to Western Michigan, the Bucks host eighth-ranked Michigan at the Schottenstein Center Jan. 12-13.

There couldn’t be a better time to get talented freshman R.J. Umberger and Dave Steckel back in the lineup. The two centermen, both listed as top prospects in the 2001 draft by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, have missed the last four games playing with the U.S. junior team. It’s no coincidence the Buckeyes failed to register a point without their top two centers in the lineup. Both Umberger and Steckel are expected to skate against the Wolverines.

Can matchup with rival Michigan can spark the slumping Bucks? In the past month, Coach John Markell’s team lost senior co-captain and leading blueline scorer Andre Signoretti due to grades. Then the team lost high scoring affairs to Cornell (6-5, OT) and Clarkson (7-6) in the Everblades College Classic tournament. Markell wanted better defense, and he got it: The Bucks managed to hold down high-flying Western Michigan to three goals in both of last weekend’s contests—and lost each time, 3-1 and 3-2.

In the absence of Umberger and Steckel, sophomore center Luke Pavlas (1-3-4) and junior winger Nick Ganga (0-4-4) led OSU in scoring.

Ohio State remains fourth place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings, with an overall record of 10-9-1.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman named Jan. 8-15 “Hockey Week” in the city. Columbus hopes to set a record for the number of fans attending simultaneous NHL and NCAA hockey games in the same city. As the Buckeyes take on Michigan at the Schott, the OSU women’s team skates against Bemidji State at OSU Ice Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena. More than 30,000 fans in total are expected to attend those three games. Pretty cool for a city that barely had hockey on its radar screen five years ago. Umberger and Steckel, along with the women’s team’s Emma Laaksonen, were in attendance at Nationwide Arena Wednesday for the Jackets-Avalanche game as part of Hockey Week … In seven games at the World Junior Championships, Umberger tallied 2-2-4 while Steckel garnered a single assist. The U.S. team finished fifth … The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ranked Umberger fourth among North American skaters in its midseason rankings, with Steckel following at 25th … A bit surprising that Buckeyes freshman goalie Mike Betz (9-8-1, 2.74 GAA, .904) wasn’t found on the CSB list after a pretty good first half of the season, stealing a win all by himself at Maine. Betz moves the puck well and seems to thrive when he sees a lot of rubber. On a side note, the one American college goalie ranked by the CSB is Findlay’s Kevin Fines, whom the Bucks scorched for 10 goals in a 10-0 blowout Nov. 28. Can’t really blame Fines for that, though, as he stopped 40 shots before getting a mercy yank with a little over five minutes to play.

OSU Scoring leaders:

Jean-Francois Dufour, 22
Dave Steckel, 18
R.J. Umberger 18

Jean-Francois Dufour, 10
Dave Steckel, 9
Nick Ganga, 9

Jean-Francois Dufour, 12
Paul Caponigri, 11
Mike McCormick, 11