No. 16 Ohio State (5-1-2, 1-1-0-0 in Big Ten) will square off against a conference opponent for the first time in three weeks as No. 10 Notre Dame (4-3-1, 0-0-0-0 in Big Ten) comes to town Friday and Saturday for the Fighting Irish’s first-ever conference series as a Big Ten team.
After a pair of wins against Robert Morris, the Buckeyes ranked in the USCHO Division I Men’s Poll for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. Ohio State holds a four-game win streak and six-game unbeaten streak coming into its clash with Notre Dame this weekend.
“Any time you can put a streak together I think that’s important,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We certainly haven’t played our best hockey, which is exciting for me, and we know we are going to have to be at our best Friday.”
The Fighting Irish enter this series after splitting a pair of games against Nebraska-Omaha last week. Both games featured high-powered offenses battling it out, with 19 goals scored between the two teams in the series.
Notre Dame ranks No. 10 in the NCAA with 3.62 goals per game. Ohio State’s defense ranks third, having only allowed 1.5 goals per game through the team’s first eight games.
On the battle between one of the best offenses against one of the best defenses, junior defenseman Sasha Larocque said no matter the opponent, Ohio State’s defense needs to play the same way.
“Treat them like anyone else,” Larocque said. “They’re going to come hard, they’re a fast team, obviously super skilled, so we have to go out there and play our game and respect them, but make sure we’re on top of what we need to do to be successful.”
Notre Dame’s offensive firepower comes largely from senior forward Jake Evans, who leads the NCAA with 15 points. Following just behind Evans are two high-scoring defensemen in senior Jordan Gross and junior Bobby Nardella. Gross leads all NCAA defensemen with 11 points, and Nardella is tied for second with 10.
Rohlik said the team has not strategized specifically to defend those players, but knows the team must always be aware of them.
“It’s about us and how we play,” Rohlik said. “We know we have to play five-man defense, five-man offense and we can’t really single out one guy and prepare for that other than knowing where they’re at on the ice.”
This series is a battle of opposites in many ways, as the two teams could not be more different when it comes to style of play this season. Aside from the top offense against the top defense, Notre Dame ranks seventh in the NCAA on the power play but is middle of the road for penalty kill. Ohio State is sixth while down a man, but is the third-worst team in college hockey while on the power play. Ohio State redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo ranks in the top 10 in both save percentage and goals against average, while neither Fighting Irish goaltender ranks in the top 30.
This is Ohio State’s most important series since opening the year against Wisconsin. The Buckeyes’ offense appears to be clicking at the right time, after scoring a season-high eight goals this past weekend. The defense has been there every game for Ohio State, but it will face its toughest match yet with Evans and company this weekend.
“They’re probably going to be the best team we’ve played so far,” senior forward Matthew Weis said. “We’re all looking forward to it, it’s their first game in the Big Ten and we want to welcome them the right way.”