Linemates in hockey are both interchangeable and indispensable
That dichotomy is a result of the fast moving nature of the game where injuries occur and coaching are constantly striving to find the right combinations among three forwards.
However, the dream of many coaches is to have at least one established trio of a center and a right and a left wing and stick with it through thick and thin. A bonus would be that the defensive pairings are also matched.
“If you had magic wand as a coach you’d keep three guys and if you could, a five-man unit together the whole year because the chemistry side of it is unbelievable,” Ohio State men’s hockey coach Mark Osiecki said. “If you can really develop that and understand, have a knack of knowing where each guy is before you get the puck you don’t have to really communicate. You don’t really have to talk. You just read off each other.”
“Unfortunately in our game and especially this year we haven’t the ability,” he added.
No, the best made plans often go awry as was the case last weekend against Northern Michigan when just 54 seconds into the two-game series OSU junior left wing Alex Lippincott was injured after a blow to the head and did not return for either game.
“When we lost Lippy there it was tough,” sophomore center Tanner Fritz said. “Everyone was playing with everyone.”
The Buckeyes persevered and actually had their best weekend of scoring, getting a season-high four goals Saturday and six overall to complete the sweep of the Wildcats despite the juggling of the lines.
“I think that helped me,” Fritz said. “It was probably the first weekend we created a lot of scoring chances.”
Aided by a reinvigorated power play, the Buckeyes (4-3-3, 3-1-2-1) travel to Lake Superior State (6-6, 3-3) Friday at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Central Collegiate Hockey Association action.
The only line that Osiecki tried to keep intact against Northern Michigan included Fritz and classmates Max McCormick and Darek Angeli.
“Right now we’re trying to keep guys in pairs and see where it goes from there, see who has chemistry with each other and then build lines from there,” Osiecki said.
Having fluid line combinations doesn’t have to be a negative thing, though.
“You’ve got two rules of thought,” Osiecki said. “You’ve got a lot of coaches that would like to keep lines together and never mix it up and then you’ve got the exact opposite of that where they’re just going to throw it into a blender and see what comes out.
“The positive for us is we’ve had those injuries guys have played with a lot of different combinations and did a great job with it.”
Finding success on the power play has helped. After going scoreless in six straight game, the Buckeyes’ power play has goal in three in a row and had a season-best two tallies last Saturday.
“Every day from the first day of practice we see it. It’s a matter of pucks bouncing in,” Osiecki said. “It’s confidence. If the power play doesn’t score a couple of goals you get put on your heels.”
Even without a proficient offense the Buckeyes have relied on a stingy defense led by senior goalie Brady Hjelle. He has a 1.55 goals-against average and CCHA-best .947 save percentage, ranking in the top five nationally in each category.
Hjelle has stopped 79 of 80 shots in league play. He is expected to start Friday with freshman Collin Olson between the pipes Saturday.