After a round-trip of more than 6,000 miles to split a series in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Ohio State men's hockey team will not travel out of state the final three weekends of the regular season beginning with home games against No. 6 Western Michigan at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The stretch in Value City Arena then continues with a pair of Central Collegiate Hockey Association games vs. Michigan on Feb. 22-23 before finishing against Miami the following week in Oxford.
OSU (12-12-6, 11-7-4-1 CCHA) is fifth in the league but in good position to grab a coveted top four spot that brings a first-round bye and home-ice in the quarterfinal series. Ferris State is a one place and a point ahead of the Buckeyes but the Bulldogs have played two more games.
"If we do well this weekend we can jump up in the standings," junior forward Travis Statchuk said. "That's what we want to do, that's our goal. Having a bye the first round would be a great accomplishment and a great advantage."
After returning to Columbus on Sunday evening the players said three days later they were still adjusting to the time change and jet lag.
"The hardest part is probably getting back on your sleep schedule," Statchuk said.
Coach Mark Osiecki and his staff know that and are monitoring the players' progress.
"The travel and just the time of the year, we've got to be smart about it," he said. "That turnaround week is always difficult. More mentally than anything we have to make sure they're fresh."
One thing Osiecki hasn't had to worry about is the team's resiliency, a season-long trademark of a young group that is maturing.
The Buckeyes played well at Ferris State and Northern Michigan to open January but had just one win to show for their efforts. Instead of crumbling like the previous two seasons, they came home to sweep Lake Superior State and take four of six points vs. Notre Dame.
After losing the opener at Alaska 6-1, the Buckeyes rebounded last Saturday with a thorough 3-1 victory.
"We believe in each other," freshman defenseman Craig Dalrymple said. "Friday we did come out slow. Saturday we had to regroup. If we went out there and lost two in a row it's going to be a miserable trip home and practice wouldn't be fun this week."
Osiecki added, "It was a great response, especially with the travel up there and the quality game that Alaska has.
"We weren't really worried about what kind of response we were going to have. We were confident going into that game - win or lose - that we were going to have a great response.
"We've never questioned their effort at practice, never had to raise our voice. One time this year; that was it. One time during the game. That was it. That's just the kids we have in the locker room."
Ohio State drew 5,779 and 6,567 for its past two home games and freshman defenseman Sam Jardine said the players are feeding off the fans' enthusiasm.
"The crowd we had the last home game against Notre Dame was awesome," he said. "We've got a good atmosphere now heading into the playoffs. It makes it a lot of fun coming home to (Value City Arena)."