By Miles McQuinn
To say that Ohio State's non-conference is among the toughest in the nation is more of an understatement than saying that the previous Big Ten Tournaments have lacked in attendance.
The Buckeye roster includes 27 players, with 10 freshmen, seven sophomores, seven juniors and three seniors.
Even with a ton of veterans coming back, it would still be tough to prepare for their 2015-16 schedule.
Throw in the amount of freshmen that need to get ready, and the situation gets even tougher for OSU head coach Steve Rohlik, who, by the way, has a new assistant coach in former Wisconsin standout defenseman Mark Strobel.
Let's take a look at what the Scarlet and Gray are up against this season as I highlight five of their marquee match-ups.
1. OSU vs #16 Bowling Green – October 9/10
How about a home-and-home test right off the bat? The Buckeyes beat Brock in their exhibition contest 4-0 in pretty dominating fashion last Saturday, but OSU was rolling five lines compared to Brock's less than four full lines. Needless to say, the Badgers were worn out in addition to the fact that the Buckeyes were much more talented.
Now the Scarlet and Gray are getting prepared for a Bowling Green squad that just missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season and is primed for great things this year.
Of the 119 goals they scored last season, the Falcons have the guys who scored 103 of them back. Chris Bergeron has built this program back almost literally from the ground up, and now many believe that it's time for the Falcons return to national prominence.
2. OSU vs #11 Miami – October 16/17
The second of the annual Ohio home-and-home's, OSU and Miami never seem to disappoint. Last season, the Buckeyes were shelled at home 5-1 in game one while OSU netminder Christian Frey had a jaw-dropping 60 saves in a 2-1 loss in Oxford the next night.
Did the RedHawks lose Austin Czarnik (9 goals, 36 assists), Riley Barber (20 G, 20 A) and Blake Coleman (20 G, 17 A)? Yes, but it's an Enrico Blasi led Miami program. They never fail to reload.
Anthony Louis (9 G, 27 A) and Sean Kuraly (19 G, 10 A) are always constant threats. What will be interesting to see, however, is that five of their forwards are freshmen but come with very high remarks. First round NHL draft pick and Columbus native Jack Roslovic has some pretty big expectations and Kiefer Sherwood, also out of Columbus, had a very solid season with Youngstown (USHL) last year.
On the blue line, they've got some considerable experience through Louie Belpedio, Matthew Caito, Chris Joyaux and Taylor Richart.
Oh, and their two-headed monster between the pipes in seniors Jay Williams and Ryan McKay? They're back too. Williams was 19-8-5 last season with a 2.04 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. McKay was a solid backup, going 6-6-1 with a 3.09 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.
3. OSU @ #7 Providence – October 23/24
Last year, the Buckeyes stunned defending national champion Providence in their season opener in Columbus before losing to the Friars the next day. Now they have to try and beat them in Rhode Island. This year, Providence heads into the season ranked seventh in the nation and has a lot of key senior firepower back with them including defensemen John Gilmour and Tom Parisi, as well as forwards Mark Jankowski, Trevor Mingoia, Nick Saracino and Brandon Tanev.
The loss of Jon Gillies between the pipes is a blow, so we'll see what juniors Brendan Leahy and Nick Ellis, along with freshman Hayden Hawkey (greatest name ever by the way) can bring to the table.
This is a team with a lot of parts back from their national championship team. We'll see how the Buckeyes fare just three weeks into their season.
4. OSU @ #9 Minnesota – December 4/5
Welcome to the Big Ten schedule. Ready or not here it comes. There isn't really a “friendly confines” anywhere in the Big Ten, but to try and steal a win at Mariucci Arena always presents a challenge. OSU is 3-19-1 all time against the Golden Gophers and the only Buckeye win at Mariucci came on Dec. 28, 1998, as the Scarlet and Gray beat the Gophers 6-5 in the Mariucci Classic.
Minnesota has a lot to prove after a disappointing 2014-15 season. A lot was expected with a loaded roster and for the most part they underachieved, squeaking into the NCAA Tournament with their Big Ten Tournament championship win over Michigan and losing 4-1 to Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round.
Taylor Cammarata, Hudson Fasching and Justin Kloos are just the first few names that come to mind when it comes to the firepower up front. Plenty of depth there. Defensively, the loss of Mike Reilly really hurts but there's still some talent and experience back there with players like Michael Brodzinski, Ryan Collins and Jake Bishoff.
Between the pipes is the biggest question. Who takes over for Adam Wilcox? By this point in the season, we should see an answer.
5. OSU vs #1 Boston College – December 28 @ the Florida College Classic: Estero, Florida.
Well this is one way to start the second half of the season. A nice trip to Florida in the middle of winter. Temperatures are warm, skies are sunny and boom. You have to play the No. 1 ranked Eagles. Now will that ranking change by late December? Who knows. I bet they do, especially since there were a staggering 10 teams that received votes in the opening uscho.com poll.
Interesting to note, the Eagles have 10 freshmen this season as well. That doesn't mean that they have a lack of veteran talent however.
BC's strength looks like it will come up front this season. Alex Tuch, possibly overshadowed by some guy down the street named Jack Eichel last season, was the school's first leading point getter as a freshman in 42 years. He had 14 goals and 14 assists.
Adam Gilmour and Ryan Fitzgerald, along with highly touted freshmen in Jeremy Bracco, Chris Brown and Colin White are going to provide problems for opposing defenses night after night.
The big question lies with the defense after it was decimated due to NHL signings (see Noah Hanifin and Michael Matheson).
Junior Thatcher Demko is the most notable goaltender in all of Hockey East, but how are his hips after offseason surgery?
OSU is 1-4 all time against Boston College. Their last meeting came in 2003 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles took that game 1-0.
The Buckeyes only win against BC came in their first ever meeting on Nov. 16, 1980. OSU went on the road and beat the Eagles 5-4 in overtime.