Friday, November 14, 2014

Buckeye State Battles On

Ohio teams realize importance of in-state rivalries

Location, location, location.

The Bowling Green, Miami, and Ohio State hockey teams are all two hours apart from each other. Despite no longer being members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), they have all made it a point to continue playing each other each season.

Thank heavens they did.

The death of the CCHA, which disbanded following the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, split the teams into three separate conferences. Bowling Green made its way into the WCHA, Miami's travel schedule became a lot more strenuous with their move to the NCHC, and OSU was obviously put into the Big Ten, which spurred all the conference realignment in the first place.

Eight conference tournament titles, 26 NCAA tournament appearances, and one national title later, the three teams know that there's a significance of the in-state rivalry between them.

While the teams only have six Ohio-born players between them, it helps to have these games every year. It also helps the game grow if all three teams are performing well.

OSU head coach Steve Rohlik talked about the impact that these games have on Ohio hockey during the team's most recent media day.

“I definitely think that all three of us would like to see (hockey) continue to grow,” Rohlik said. “I think that's why you see all three of us continue to be on each other's schedule because I think if we continue to push hockey here in Ohio, you're seeing the youth programs here grow more and more, I think it's only going to benefit all three schools.”

The Ohio Blue Jackets AAA midget major program currently has the best record in the prestigious Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, a feat that wouldn't be possible if there was no presence of major hockey in central Ohio. Was that mostly spurred by the inception of the Blue Jackets? Yes. But for a 15 or 16-year-old kid at the top of his game, having a Big Ten program down the street is an added bonus.

The Cleveland Barons AAA program allows northeast Ohioans to develop their games against the best in the country in the same league. A good amount of hockey players from Toledo take their talents to the Detroit area with the hopes of placing themselves on the rosters of the nationally dominant programs in “Hockeytown.” Bowling Green has two northwestern Ohio natives of their own on their roster.

Being an Ohio kid myself, don't think for a second that an Ohio grown player wouldn't love the opportunity to represent his state on any of the three teams. This, without a doubt, drives the collegiate programs to become better. It makes it a heck of a lot easier to recruit an Ohio kid when a program here is at the top of the food chain in the Buckeye state.

For example, check out Cleveland native and Hobey Baker finalist Carter Camper.

Buckeyes senior captain Tanner Fritz briefly chimed in on what being the best team in Ohio means.

“You definitely want to be the team that everyone talks about,” Fritz said. “You want to be known as the good hockey team in Ohio.”

Another value added to these games is the exposure and energy levels surrounding them.

The games between the three schools receive more attendance than average, especially at the cavernous Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The OSU-Miami game at “The Schott” drew a crowd of 5,391. With the exception of the first game of the weekend against Nebraska-Omaha, that was almost double the crowd of their other home games.

With a listed capacity crowd of 3,200 at Goggin Ice Arena, the game the following night between the two teams garnered 3,554. Miami's attendance has been at an average of 87 percent this season, which is surprisingly low for them. 

You can expect the same type of crowd energy this weekend between the Buckeyes and the Falcons.

Junior Sam Jardine, assistant captain of the Scarlet and Gray, appreciates and enjoys the in-state rivalries, and will continue to do so this weekend.

“It keeps the rivalry fresh,” Jardine said. “It's always a fun place to go in and play. An old barn, a good student section, and short drive down the highway so we're excited to play them.”

Bowling Green is back on its feet as a program and is soaring high in the early season with a 7-2-1 record. Miami is also off to a roaring start with a 7-3 record. OSU is 2-5-1 and looking to improve heading into conference play.

Bowling Green and Miami played in early October with both teams taking a win out of the series. OSU and Miami played the following weekend and the Redhawks swept the Buckeyes in the home-and-home affair. Bowling Green and OSU will finish off the in-state match-ups for the season beginning tonight at the BGSU Ice Arena.

The Falcons control the all-time series between both Miami and OSU. Bowling Green is 60-44-8 against the Redhawks and 90-60-8-3 (wins-losses-ties-shootout wins) against the Buckeyes. Miami has a 73-62-13 advantage over the Scarlet and Gray.

No matter what the head-to-head records are, no matter what the score of the games are, these games are meaningful and benefit the growth of the game here.

Will it change any time soon? I doubt it. All three teams are scheduled to play each other for the next two seasons. Given how the rivalries have survived post-CCHA, it should continue.

At least I hope so.

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