Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series about the hockey team — ranked No. 3 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association — and its top line of Nick Rostek, Michael Schultz and now Jared Fuhs.
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook Nick Rostek, a fact that he, his linemates and even coach Dan Morris openly admit. He’s not the biggest, flashiest or most skilled skater on Ohio’s top line. He’s the one doing the dirty work.
Rostek, a sophomore who plays left wing on Ohio’s first line, embraces that role. He said he has no problems when he doesn’t receive the fanfare •Michael Schultz and Tyler Pilmore do. But opponents who overlook him quickly learn they’ve made a mistake.
“He’s a steady winger. He keeps it real simple and he’s smart enough to keep it at the pace that Tyler and Schultz play at so he can complements them,” Morris said. “Pilmore and Schultz play at a quick pace and [teams] lose Rostek in the mix. That’s when he springs open to get a goal.”
Rostek plays the game like a bulldog. Despite his 5-foot-10, 195-pound frame, he never shies away from contact, whether that’s in front of the net, in the corners or along the boards.
“He’s a little longer than his height – he’s lanky,” Morris said. “He’s got reach…and he’s a big, strong guy. He’s filled in.”
But Rostek also plays a responsible game in all three zones, and has the skills to create goals on offense and prevent them on defense. He’s the prototypical two-way winger.
“I try to play a defensive role first. I try to think of the best situation that will not put my team in jeopardy.” Rostek said. “I wouldn’t consider myself a goal-scorer, but I think I’m very capable of scoring goals.”
Rostek’s goal total is down this season, with only seven to his name so far after he had 13 as a freshman. But Rostek said he isn’t concerned with doing the goal-scoring for Ohio’s top line – a place he has been entrenched since he came to Athens.
Passing, however, has been no problem. Through 26 games, Rostek has 23 assists, matching his total from 2009-2010 in 19 fewer games.
“As we get closer to [the offensive zone] I try to just get Schultz --who’s a great scorer -- and Pilmore – the fastest kid in the league and can score as well – the puck and get open if they need help,” Rostek said.
But Rostek’s greatest asset is his versitility. He’s counted on in all situations – even strength, on the power play and short-handed. This year, he has become one of the Bobcats’ top penalty killers.
“I enjoy seeing the fans cheer when you ice the puck, or your teammates pick you up whenever you make a nice play on the penalty kill,” Rostek said. “Just bailing a teammate out who might take a stupid penalty -- everyone’s had that feeling where you’re in the box like, ‘please don’t score.’
“You just want to be there and help them.”
Rostek hasn’t had to worry about ‘that feeling’ too much this season, though. With only six penalty minutes, he’s tied for the fewest on the team, far away from the 34 he accumulated last year.
Schultz said that although Rostek has taken far fewer penalties than last season, it hasn’t changed the way he plays.
“He works hard every night and he hits when he needs to. He does the same things,” he said. “He’s just focused on staying out of the box because he knows we need him on the penalty kill.”
“He’s just really worried about the team.”
But that’s shouldn’t really come as any surprise. That’s what Rostek does. He’ll fill any role – whatever need his team has.
“We needed a big, strong left winger and he kind of fit the bill. That’s where we started with Nick,” Morris said. “Now – gosh in his sophomore year – he’s one of the go-to-guys on our team.”