The head coach was new last season but the makeover continues for the 2011-12 Ohio State men’s hockey team in so many ways.
Second-year coach Mark Osiecki welcomed a new assistant coach to work with goalies (Joe Exter) as well as 13 freshmen, who unlike previous years, arrived on campus this summer to get acclimated to the surroundings while attending classes.
“When we came in as freshmen it was late August, right at the beginning of September, so we basically got thrown in the fire,” senior defenseman Sean Duddy said. “In this case they’ve had 10 weeks here already before the season even starts. They’re veterans at it now.”
If that’s not enough, the Buckeyes (15-18-4 overall and 10-14-4-2 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association last season) unveiled their revamped look on-ice with new home (white jerseys, red pants) and road (scarlet tops, black pants) uniforms along with a radical change to the colors of the helmets.
Instead of white or red they will duplicate the gray with stripes helmets worn by the football team.
And horrors of horrors, Osiecki got the idea from that School Up North –who took their famous winged football helmet and put the design on their hockey lids years ago.
“Branding is one thing we talked about from a marketing standpoint,” he said. “You look at the (Ohio State) helmets – the football helmet is top five in the country recognizable.
“We looked at, ‘If Michigan is doing that for hockey, why can’t we do this?’ We want to walk into an arena or rink and people are going to know, Buckeye Nation, any alum anywhere, is going to know it’s Ohio State.”
Actually, the concept is not new. Ohio State made a big deal in January 2005 when the Buckeyes wore the football-like helmets for the first time in a home game against Michigan. OSU lost 6-3 and coach John Markell never used them again.
Now they’re getting a second chance.
“It’s good for us,” senior forward Cory Schneider. “One of the things we’re trying to do is establish a brand for the hockey team. Everybody knows Michigan. Everybody knows those helmets they have because they’re different from normal hockey helmets… Ours will be recognizable.”
Osiecki said that, just like the football team, his players can earn Buckeye leaf stickers for their helmets for outstanding play.
Helmets, or buckets as the players like to say, will be the one constant in the uniforms. The throwback jerseys, circa 1980’s, will be worn as will a gray variation, a special camouflage sweater in honor of the military that will be auctioned, and a one-time only jersey for the outdoor Frozen Diamond Faceoff vs. Michigan on Jan. 15 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
When the players aren’t figuring out how to dress they’ll enjoy time the new players’ lounge that was moved out of the dressing room area. The renovated space has murals with past CCHA championship teams and Buckeyes who made it to the NHL in addition to couches, chairs, a flat-screen TV, microwave and refrigerator.
“We want the guys to feel special,” said Osiecki, who came to Ohio State after being an assistant coach at Wisconsin. “When they walk into (Value City Arena) it’s obviously a nice building but we continue to make improvements and want the players to feel this is first class. It’s as nice as many NHL places and we want the guys to feel that way so when they understand everything they get, they have to earn and it affects our program as a whole.”
He hopes that if the players feel and look good they’ll play good, too.
That remains to be seen with such a young team – there are only four seniors – but Schneider said bigger things are expected in year 2 of the Osiecki era.
“The transition has definitely been made,” he said. “We’re moving in a very good direction now.”