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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Irish hockey faces road test at Ohio State

With five of their six Big Ten league opponents ranked in NCAA hockey’s top 20, the #20 Notre Dame hockey team is no stranger to top-20 matchups. This weekend is no different, as the Irish travel to Columbus for a ranked battle with the #12/13 Ohio State Buckeyes. It is set to be an important series for both sides, as Ohio State tries to get back on track after being swept at Michigan State and Notre Dame looks to build off the momentum of last Saturday’s overtime win against Michigan.

Series History

 The Irish and Buckeyes have played 94 times since their first meeting in the 1968-69 season, and the series has been close throughout. Notre Dame holds the overall edge with a 42-41-11 record against Ohio State, although the Buckeyes lead the series on their home ice 21-19-7.

Last year, Ohio State took seven of 12 available points in the season series, with two regulation wins and an overtime loss. Despite that, Notre Dame narrowly edged Ohio State for the third seed — and first round home ice — in last year’s Big Ten tournament.

Among the ties between the teams is longtime Notre Dame associate head coach Paul Pooley. Pooley is a 1984 graduate of Ohio State and holds Buckeye hockey’s career records for goals (114), assists (156) and points (270). He also got his coaching start at Ohio State in 1988 and had his number retired by the program before a game between the Irish and Buckeyes in 2006. Pooley is now in his 18th season behind the Notre Dame bench. 

Scouting the Buckeyes

Ohio State was one of the final teams left out of last year’s NCAA tournament. With 22 players from that squad returning, the Buckeyes opened this season with motivation and a vengeance. One of the hottest teams in the nation at the time, they attracted eyes around the country with a 7-1-1 start. The best results from that streak were 0-0 tie at current #7/8 Connecticut and a 6-4 win against #2 Minnesota. The Buckeyes, though, have cooled off lately, and are losers of three straight. Coming out of an open weekend, Ohio State was swept by surging Michigan State in two close games last weekend.

As a veteran team, depth has been the key to Ohio State’s success this season, and it will continue to be. All 21 players with at least five games played so far have one point or more for the Buckeyes, and 15 have one goal or more.

The Buckeye depth is especially strong down the middle, with their top three centers leading the team in scoring. Graduate student Jake Wise, a 2018 draftee of the Chicago Blackhawks, leads all skaters with five goals and 12 points. Wise played three years at Boston University before transferring to Ohio State last year. Meanwhile, freshman Stephen Halliday (a 2022 4th round pick by Ottawa) and junior Travis Treloar are right behind Wise, with 11 and 10 points respectively.

Special teams have also been key for the Buckeyes, who are second in the nation on the penalty kill. Much of that has to do with consistent goaltending by sophomore Jakub Dobes, who has started all 12 games this year for Ohio State while posting a .911 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average. A native of the Czech Republic, Dobes played in 35 games last year as a freshman for the Buckeyes, finishing the year with an outstanding .931 save percentage. He is a 5th round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens from 2020.

Scouting the Irish

Notre Dame is coming off a momentum changing, 3-2 overtime win against rival Michigan last Saturday night. Previously, the Irish had lost 3 straight games, including a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Wolverines the night before. When, the next night, the Irish headed to the locker room after the first period trailing 2-0, there was little life in Compton Family Ice Arena. The feeling seemed to be that Notre Dame was on the precipice of getting swept for the second weekend in a row.

But the Irish had something to say about that. Grappling their way back into the game, Notre Dame tied the score late in the second period. After a stalemate third, junior forward Grant Silianoff scored the dramatic game winner 2:26 into overtime, and life burst anew for the Fighting Irish.

“I’m hoping we can build on what we did Saturday as opposed to taking a step back,” head coach Jeff Jackson said Wednesday. “I think a lot of it had to do with playing with better discipline, both within our system and not taking unnecessary penalties.”

Puck management was also key for Notre Dame in the win. In the second and third periods of the Saturday contest, the Irish made good decisions with the puck, controlling possession in the offensive zone and on zone entries. Puck management will continue to be important for the team going forward.

“For me, it’s about just doing a better job with the puck — both off the rush on our entries into the offensive zone, and then in the offensive zone. To me, those are the things that impact the game the most for us,” Jackson said.

As Notre Dame seeks to capitalize on the fresh momentum, they will be forced to find results on the road. Road games have been a challenge this year for the Irish, who are winless in five games away from Compton.

“We’ve always been a good road team, and yet we haven’t won a road game yet this year, and that gives me a little pause,” Jackson said.

The Irish will play their next four on the road. This weekend sees two games at Value City Arena against Ohio State before the Irish head east to Boston. Notre Dame will play the 6-3-0 Boston University Terriers at Agganis Arena Wednesday, then will go across town to take on the Boston College Eagles on Friday.

Contact Ryan Murphy at