Ohio State men’s hockey has picked up steam after rattling off 6-of-7 wins, but this weekend it runs into its toughest –– and highest ranked –– opponent of the season.
After cracking the top 10 with a four-game win streak, No. 8 Ohio State (6-1-1, 2-0-0 Big Ten) travels to South Bend, Indiana, for a series Friday and Saturday against No. 5 Notre Dame (5-0-1,1-0-1).
Head coach Steve Rohlik isn’t concerned about rankings, though.
“I didn’t even know we were there,” Rohlik said. “Really, at the end of the day, I’m just concerned about the end of the year, and right now we just want to be prepared for Friday and be the best we can for Friday. That’s the only thing we can control.”
The Buckeyes’ preparation this week starts with defense, as the Fighting Irish average 4.67 goals per game, giving them the No. 3 scoring offense in the NCAA.
“We got to be structured in our system, not make mistakes. I think that’s the big key, not giving up the easy goals and the big breakdowns,” Rohlik said. “If we’re disciplined in what we’re doing, and we stay connected and five-man connected defensively, it really starts to eliminate the easy goals.”
Freshman forward Tate Singleton said slowing Notre Dame’s offense is a matter of playing fundamental hockey.
“Just focus on the D-zone, making the simple plays, chipping pucks out, getting them deep and working their D and try to get as many shots on the net as I can,” freshman forward Tate Singleton said.
Ohio State’s junior goaltender Tommy Nappier was named Big Ten Second Star of the Week following his efforts in the sweep against Michigan, where he saved 48 of the 51 shots he faced. He is currently No. 6 in the nation in both save percentage and goals against average, with .940 and 1.62, respectively.
“I think it’s going to be good-structured games both games. Both teams play a good structured game,” Nappier said. “They’re going to shoot from everywhere and anywhere on me.”
Senior forward Cal Burke leads Notre Dame with 13 points on four goals and nine assists. Senior forward Mike O’Leary leads in goals, finding the back of the net five times in its first six games, including one this past weekend against Minnesota.
The Fighting Irish have played two goaltenders this year in freshman Ryan Bischel and senior Cale Morris. Each have played three games. Morris has played in the past three games for Notre Dame and has posted a .936 save percentage with a goals against average of 2.101.
Ohio State will be without its full lineup as it deals with some early-season injuries.
“As a coach, it was good to see the other guys step up, and we kind of grinded it out on the weekend, to be honest with you, so where we’re at with those guys is still yet to be determined, but hopefully we get a few of them back for the weekend,” Rohlik said.
The puck drops at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday in Indiana.