Most often heard in Columbus, Ohio, the Buckeye Battle Cry proclaims, and rightly so, "In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land." While many surely associate the Buckeye “brand” with football and basketball programs that have garnered national praise for annual successes, The Ohio State's men's hockey program is in the midst of an ascent in the NCAA world, and two Sens prospects find themselves at the forefront.
Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick joined the Sens’ ranks as part of the 2011 draft class and have blossomed into a vaunted duo in the NCAA. Now in their third season within the Sens development pipeline, both are averaging over a point per game for the Buckeyes — who joined the Big Ten hockey conference for the 2013-14 season — and give Sens’ brass plenty to be excited about for their future in the organization.
For those unfamiliar with Buckeyes’ hockey, it isn’t a stretch to suggest it draws many parallels to the style of play Paul MacLean has instilled with the Ottawa Senators during his tenure as head coach. Both players stress the workmanlike effort the team seeks to put forth every time they hit the ice, citing a consistent, three zone game as hallmarks of the program, using terms like “compete”, “outwork” and “relentless” as descriptors.
“We compete every night — coach always stresses us doing the little things, getting a lot of pucks on net, playing the body,” said Dzingel. “Every single day we're working hard and trying to get better.”
The pair brings an effective mix of offensive flair, defensive awareness and physicality to the table in different measure for the Buckeyes. In this early season, Dzingel leads the team in scoring, power play goals and game winners, while McCormick, on the other hand, is right behind in each category and holds the team lead in penalty minutes, a byproduct of the sandpaper he brings to the lineup.
“I like to think I'm a well-rounded player, a guy that can help you win in the playoffs,” said McCormick.
Both players bring on-ice ability and off-ice intangibles that successful franchises look to add to their system. From there it’s a matter of cultivating those talents into what ultimately becomes an NHL hockey career and that cultivation has been evident in their development as players. The two have visibly transformed since their first development camp and are steadily progressing towards a professional career.
“From my nutrition to my sleep, everything has completely changed,” said Dzingel. “I've put a lot of work in the weight room... just learning what type of body you need as a college hockey player and moving on to pro, learning how much weight you need to feel right on the ice. I've learned to add a lot of strength in the weight room and then transform it on the ice to be more explosive.”
Much of the growth in prospects comes from direct interaction between the Sens scouting and development staffs with the prospects during their time together. Earlier this summer, Sens TV took part in the exit interviews for both Dzingel and McCormick, which gave a glimpse into the takeaways they receive from their time in an NHL development camp setting and, more specifically, what they are encouraged to implement into their game.
To this point in the 2013-14 season, both players are hard at work trying to refine their games in areas identified by the Sens, just as they have in years past.
“My first year Pierre (Dorion) told me he wanted me to work on my puck skills. I did that and I think I've been improving,” said McCormick. “This year he said when you play professional hockey you have to know what you want to do once you get the puck. He wanted me to work on making faster decisions, seeing the game better and knowing what I'm going to do and where I'm going to go with the puck when I get it right away.”
“Whatever they say I try and absorb that and improve on it as best as I can. I think I've been doing better with that this season.”
For Dzingel, the building blocks offered to him by the team have been considerably different, but equally important for a successful professional career.
“Chris (Schwarz) told me to not just focus in the weight room but also focus outside the weight room with foam rolling, stretching and being flexible,” said Dzingel. “That has helped me out a lot. I always focused on getting stronger and being bigger but I never focused on of being flexible and being able to shift that weight.”
“Pierre Dorion told me to always compete and be consistent. Each night I've focused on what I can control in each practice and each game to because I can always go out and give 110 per cent.”
A detail often ignored in a college prospect’s development are the challenges posed by growth as a hockey player get enhanced by the obstacles that come with being a student. Both credit Ohio State with making the balance as manageable as possible, though there is still a burden to ensure everything is in order. Equal doses of immense dedication and discipline are required to be successful.
“You have to manage time and be organized,” said McCormick. “I do most of my homework in the afternoon or at night and on Sundays after the weekend, but you've really got to stay up on things. You've got to get a good start on your classes, communicate with your professors and let them know when you're going to be gone to do makeup exams and makeup homework.”
Despite the intense demands of NCAA life — particularly under the microscope of a Big Ten school — both have nothing but the best to say about the Buckeye experience.
“It's definitely an honour. It's a cool place to play and we get treated with nothing but the best… even the people around campus know who you are here,” said Dzingel. “I'm definitely glad I chose to come here and play.”
A benefit to plying your trade in an NHL city is it gives the pair a chance to interact with their NHL club when they pass through town. On November 5, when the Senators were in Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets, both Dzingel and McCormick were in tow with the players, coaching staff and management to get a taste of the NHL experience.
The chance to be around an NHL team was an eye-opening experience.
“Getting into the rink, playing a game and having a quick turnaround because they were going to play in two days. They were still working out and flushing their bodies and stuff,” said Dzingel. “Not only to meet all the coaching staff and everyone else, it was cool to see how the players had such a quick turnaround and were so professional after the game.”
During their time at the game, Dzingel and McCormick were introduced to Senators GM Bryan Murray and the team’s coaching staff by Director of Player Development Randy Lee in addition to having a chance to spend some time with veteran NHLers like Chris Neil, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan. They also had a chance to catch up with former development camp teammates like Mika Zibanejad — a fellow 2011 draft pick — and Cory Conacher — an attendee at this past summer’s camp. The session served as a motivational reminder for the pair.
“With some of those guys, you started out with them at camp a couple years ago and we were drafted with them. To be around it and be that close to it, it’s like it's right there,” said McCormick. “It's that much more motivating.”
There may be some time to go before Dzingel and McCormick trade in their Ohio State scarlet for Senators red but there will be plenty for fans to be excited about in the meantime. And, as the Buckeyes persist in trying to make their mark amongst NCAA, two Sens prospects can take solace knowing that they have an NHL team and their fans united in red with them along the way now, in the midst of their junior seasons, and into the future.
In the more poetic words of the Buckeye Battle Cry:
Smash through to victory.
We cheer you as you go:
Our honor defend
So we'll fight to the end for O-hi-o.
There are two players and many more eagerly awaiting the day fighting to the end for “O-hi-o” becomes fighting for a Stanley Cup in Ottawa.
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