After a disappointing performance Friday night, the No. 8 Irish rebounded strongly on Saturday to split their series with Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio this weekend.
Notre Dame (16-9-3/13-6-1-1 CCHA) defeated the Buckeyes (13-10-2/8-8-2-2 CCHA) with a commanding 4-1 victory on Saturday, just one day after losing badly 6-1.
Freshman center and team-leading point scorer T.J. Tynan was the lone Irish player to find the back of the net on Friday, when he scored his 16th goal of the season off an assist from sophomore defenseman Sam Calabrese, to tie the game at 1-1 late in the first period. Ohio State then rattled off three unanswered goals, leading to the removal of Irish sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson from the game. He was replaced by freshman Steven Summerhays in the third period. Senior Buckeye forwards C.J. Severyn and John Albert then notched the final two goals against Summerhays, creating the final margin.
After a disheartening result, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said it was the team's upperclassmen who responded positively, with the rest of the squad following their lead into the second game.
"Friday night, we had a couple bad breaks, and I don't think we responded well to it. There were a couple bad bounces," Jackson said. "Saturday morning, the seniors took charge of the situation and I give them credit for refocusing the guys and getting them back on track, because we were a much different team and played much better on Saturday night."
The Irish came out firing in the second contest, outshooting the Buckeyes 14-6 in the first period. Freshman center Anders Lee beat junior Buckeye goalie Cal Heeter with 22 seconds left in the first period, with Tynan and junior defenseman Sean Lorenz assisting on the play. Lee then scored early in the second period on the power play, off assists by junior right wing Billy Maday and sophomore center Riley Sheahan. It was Lee's 16th goal of the season, tying him with Tynan for team best.
After senior defenseman Shane Sims got the Buckeyes on the board, Irish senior center Ben Ryan made the margin two goals again with his fifth goal of the year. Freshman center David Gerths ended the scoring late in the second, making the tally 4-1. Johnson rebounded from a poor opening game to a great final one, ending the night with 29 saves.
After the rocky game on Friday, Jackson was tempted to bench Johnson and start Summerhays on Saturday, but was persuaded by assistant coach T.J. Jindra to stick with the number one netminder.
"T.J. mentioned it to me after having a meeting and talking about where they were as far as the season went that it was time to go with the guys that brought us and Mike has played well for us most of the season," Jackson said. "He had a tough night [Friday]. Coming back with him [Saturday] was a good move."
While Notre Dame finished the Ohio State series strong, the opening loss knocked the Irish into second place in the CCHA behind No. 6 Michigan, who swept Alaska. The Wolverines are currently at 43 points in conference play on the season, two ahead of the Irish.
Jackson, however, is not concerned with the big picture at the moment, but rather small steps.
"We want to focus on the process and make sure that we're just taking care of business each and every game and not focusing on the prize at the end of the season," he said. "Because if we don't take care of the little things, the big things will never come around."
One of the little things Jackson said he will stress is the Irish's transition game. And with a tough opponent, No. 12 Miami (OH), coming to South Bend this weekend, it could play a critical role.
"We just have to keep on focusing on the things that are based on transition, like stopping and starting, back-pressuring hard, trying to outnumber people and create traps and try to get the opportunity to create turnovers. When that happens, we get on offensive transition," Jackson said. "If we can take care of those things, then I think everything else will take care of itself."
The Irish meet the Redhawks at the Joyce Center in a critical CCHA showdown at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 5:05 p.m. Saturday.