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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

Irish seniors and graduate students lift Irish over No. 7 Ohio State

The Notre Dame men’s hockey team returned to Compton Family Ice Arena (CFIA) this weekend when they hosted the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes. The series was the last home stand of the regular season for the Fighting Irish and could be the final home game for several Irish upperclassmen.

Friday night was fan appreciation night and the fans showed out for it, creating the 90th sellout ever at CFIA. Notre Dame came into the weekend searching for a much-needed sweep, just four points back of the Buckeyes. A sweep could get the Irish into third place and see them return to NCAA playoff eligibility.

The Irish got a chance to start the series off on the right foot. After a dangerous but unsuccessful early power-play, Notre Dame struck first in the waning minutes of the first period. Sophomore forward Justin Janicke brought the puck down the far side of the ice along the boards before heading toward the net. Janicke beat a Buckeye defender before flicking the puck toward the waiting junior forward Landon Slaggert, who was stationed perfectly in the slot.

Slaggert beat Ohio State goaltender Jakub Dobes with a one-timer underneath his blocker to give the Irish a 1-0 lead. Shortly after the Slaggert goal, Ohio State was called for a high-sticking penalty. The power play was short-lived for the Irish, however, as graduate student defensemen Chase Blackmun was called for hooking shortly thereafter.

Shortly after a successful Irish penalty kill, senior goaltender Ryan Bischel collected an Ohio State dump-in and left it for graduate student Nick Leivermann. As it happened, sophomore Drew Bavaro, who had dropped his stick, sprinted toward the bench. Upon his arrival, Slaggert hopped out of the bench completely wide open and caught a pass and scored to put the Irish up two.

The game’s chippiness rose throughout the night. With 11 seconds remaining in the period, Ohio State’s Cam Thiesing and Notre Dame’s sophomore Tyler Carpenter got tangled up after the whistle. Both were sent to the box for roughing, putting the teams back at four-on-four.

After a good offensive possession for the Irish to start the third, junior defenseman Zach Plucinski was called for tripping, though the crowd disagreed with the call.

With 10 minutes left in the third, Bavaro was also called for tripping, and Ohio State quickly capitalized. The Buckeyes won the face-off and worked the puck to the far side but quickly cut it back, working the points. Sitting back at the face-off dot, Stephen Halliday caught the pass and sent it to Travis Treloar. Treloar saw an open Jake Wise, who caught the puck and beat Bichsel, who had not fully rotated over.

Ultimately, Notre Dame held on to win the game 2-1, taking the first game of the two-game series.

Saturday’s contest was quite possibly the most emotional game of the season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team. The Irish battled from two goals for a 2-2 tie. Notre Dame prevailed after an epic nine rounds in the ensuing shootout to earn the extra B10 standings point, moving them into a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten.

Playing their last regular season game before a sold-out crowd at CFIA, the Notre Dame graduate students and seniors made the difference.

“It was senior night, and it matters to these kids,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said postgame. “I told them before the game, I don’t want to watch them down there singing the alma mater after a loss.”

The importance of the game for the Notre Dame senior class was visible following the national anthem, when Solag Bakich led the team in the pre-game huddle. The four-year senior has deep roots with the Irish — his parents both attended the University.

It was graduate student Ben Brinkman who got Notre Dame physically engaged in the contest, leveling some heavy checks early in the game. There was little flow to the opening frame, as the teams combined for 36 penalty minutes. Each team had three power-plays, and Ohio State struck for first on their third when Mason Lohrei finished off a cross-crease feed from Michael Gildon at 13:49. That did not stop the sloppiness, as Notre Dame’s graduate student forward Chayse Primeau and Ohio State’s Treloar were both whistled for 10-minute misconducts late in the frame.

“The first period was so chaotic,” captain Leivermann said after the game. “Frankly, they were just trying to get under our skin, and it worked a little bit, because they were playing really well.”

Notre Dame was in need of some refocusing in the locker room. This time, it was senior Janicke who did the talking.

“We did it actually twice, the first time it was Trevor,” Leivermann said. The message? “Just dial back in, everyone take a breath.”

Despite this, the Irish fell behind 2-0 early in the second period. Dalton Messina leaked a wrist shot through Bischel from the far faceoff circle, causing the Ohio State bench to erupt. It was the senior forward’s first career goal for the Buckeyes.

The goal came as a result of extended pressure by Ohio State in the Notre Dame zone to start the period. Ohio State continued to string together shifts of offensive zone possession, forcing Notre Dame to kill off a penalty.

Then Notre Dame called their timeout — a savvy veteran move by Jackson. Sure enough, graduate student forward Jack Adams parked in front of the goal and deflected junior defenseman Jake Boltmann’s shot past Buckeye netminder Dobes to get the Irish on the board less 29 seconds later. Compton roared as Adams skated toward the bench pumping up the crowd, left arm raised triumphantly.

Less than four minutes following, Notre Dame tied the score on Leivermann’s power-play goal. In a major penalty-killing error by the Buckeyes, Leivermann was left entirely alone in the right faceoff circle while the puck was on the left half-wall. Slaggert made a precise saucer pass right into Leivermann’s wheelhouse, and the captain rifled home the equalizer.

Despite being outshot 18-8 in the second period, the Irish had managed to tie the game. The third period was more of the same. The Buckeyes threw 20 more shots on net in the third, many of which came from high-quality scoring areas. Yet Bischel was up to the task on all of them, plus five more in overtime.

“We were hanging on for dear life tonight,” Jackson said. “Our goalie played great.”

When the final siren sounded on overtime, the scoreboard read a hard-fought 2-2 tie. It also read 52 Ohio State shots. It was Bischel's sixth 40-plus save and second 50-plus save performance this season.

There was still more to come in the shootout, which did not lack for drama in its own right. After Leivermann scored on the very first shot for Notre Dame, Jake Wise scored to keep his team alive in the third round.

The stalemate continued into round nine, when graduate student Chase Blackmun niftily snuck a shot by the glove of Dobes to put the Irish out in front. Thiesing needed to score to keep the Buckeye hopes alive. Slowing as he drifted to the slot, he released a snapshot at Bischel.

As he had 45 times in regulation, five times in overtime and six times in the shootout, Bischel made the save to cap a thrilling weekend and give the Irish a ton of momentum heading into their final series of the regular season next weekend at No. 5 Michigan.