Columbus, Ohio (March 16) - After 15 years behind the Buckeye bench, OSU athletic director Gene Smith announced the contract of head hockey coach John Markell, would not be renewed. Markell, a Bowling Green alum, took over for Jerry Welsh in the middle of the 1994-95 season and compiled a respectable 280-267-56 record including the school's only CCHA tournament title in 2004, six NCAA tournament appearances and the school's only trip to the Frozen Four back in 1998. However, after reaching the NCAA tournament last season, the Buckeyes were largely expected to contend for a top four finish in the CCHA. Instead, they finished 9th in the regular season and a disappointing 15-18-6 overall. Instead of a first round bye, the Buckeyes hosted a first round playoff series at the OSU Ice Rink sweeping Notre Dame. The following week, they traveled to regular season champion Miami where they extended the RedHawks to three games but were ultimately eliminated.
Blue Jackets beat writer Michael Arace recently penned a column where he states that Markell was not the problem, but rather, Value City Arena and the OSU administration bear much of the blame for the lack of consistency the program has put forth. While I agree Value City Arena is an absolutely awful venue for nearly anything, it's a pro-style facility that most certainly has all the amenities a professional hockey team might have. And when full, VCA could become a significant recruiting advantage for Ohio State. The problem is that college hockey simply does not play to 17,500 seats every night, anywhere. The top drawing programs like Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota play in buildings that hold 15,237, 11,640 and 10,000 respectively with Wisconsin rarely playing to a full house. Arace is correct in saying that most programs have buildings that range in the 2,500 to 6,000 seat number and a rink of that size on campus at Ohio State could have far-reaching implications for the program. But, I find it highly unlikely that the administration would want to pony up $40-$50 million to build it.
Ultimately, Arace is wrong. It's not the building or the lack of real commitment to hockey at Ohio State that doomed Markell. He was not renewed because his program had stagnated. Even considering he took a program that averaged just 9 wins per season in the decade prior to his arrival on campus to one that won nearly 20 a year during his 15 seasons, he simply could never generate consistent momentum while being tormented by Rico Blasi and Miami down the road.
And while Ohio State has never been #1 in the state of Ohio for men's hockey behind Bowling Green and now Miami, there was the feeling that the momentum Markell had generated a few years ago was squandered. That even with decent recruiting classes, Ohio State was not winning enough to move the needle forward. That long time donors and season ticket holders finally gave up hope and stopped giving their money. In the end, Markell is out because he didn't win consistently enough and was too nice a guy to point out the fact that Ohio State doesn't really care about hockey, regardless of what they might say.
Ultimately, I do feel for Coach Markell and hope he finds another opportunity down the road.
Adam Wodon of College Hockey News had this to say on possible Markell replacements.