During last weekend’s series against Penn State, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 5-3 during Game 1 and squandered a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 tie during Game 2, but won the shootout at the end of the second game to earn an extra point in the Big Ten conference standings.
With the weekend sweep, the Irish also reclaimed the #1 national ranking in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and USCHO polls.
The extra point Notre Dame earned last weekend was huge, as the Irish now have the opportunity to clinch the Big Ten regular season championship on their home ice this weekend when they host a top-ten showdown with the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes in a two-game series at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Notre Dame is currently first in the Big Ten standings with 47 points, 13 points ahead of second place Ohio State.
If Notre Dame wins the regular season title, they will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big Ten conference tournament. As the No. 1 seed, they would host the lowest remaining seed in a single-elimination semifinal game that would be scheduled for Saturday, March 10th at the Compton Family Ice Arena. If Notre Dame wins that game, they would then host the winner of the other semifinal in the Big Ten conference championship game that is scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17th.
Of course, for any of this to be possible Notre Dame has to earn at least three more conference points, which they can do with a win or a shootout win combined with a tie this weekend against #6 Ohio State. This is going to be one of the biggest home series the Compton has seen in a long time, and you can expect a rowdy crowd on Friday and Saturday night to cheer on their beloved Irish.
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
When: Friday, Feb. 9, 7:35 p.m. EST (Game 1) and Saturday, Feb. 10, 7:05 p.m. EST (Game 2)
Watch: NBCSN (Game 1) and NBC Sports Chicago Plus (Game 2). Both games can also be streamed on the NBC Sports App.
Tale of the Tape
The Ohio State Buckeyes historically haven’t been known for having a strong hockey program. However, head coach Steve Rohlik and company have recently started to change that perception. Since taking over the program in 2013, Rohlik has led Ohio State to an 85-69-22 overall record and an appearance in last season's NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes came close to knocking out overall No. 2 seed Minnesota-Duluth in the first round, but were defeated in overtime 3-2.
This season, Ohio State has an overall record of 18-6-4 and come into South Bend ranked #6 in the country.
The Buckeyes feature dynamic sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski, who leads the team in points with 37 (12 goals, 25 assists). Laczynski was drafted in the sixth round (169th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2016 NHL Draft, and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championships. Not far behind Laczynski are forwards Matthew Weis with 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) and Mason Jobst with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists). Junior forward Dakota Joshua, a 2014 fifth round draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has collected 20 points in 25 games this season.
In addition to being the top two teams in the conference standings, Notre Dame and Ohio State are also on top of the Big Ten in terms of scoring defense. Notre Dame leads the conference with 2.00 goals allowed per game while Ohio State is second with 2.21 goals allowed per game.
The Buckeyes and the Irish also come in first and second, respectively, in both overall Power Play and Penalty Killing categories. Ohio State’s man-advantage leads the Big Ten with a PP % of 23.5, while their PK boosts a percentage of 90.4. Notre Dame is close behind in both categories with a PP % of 21.5 and a PK % of 88.0. Needless to say, staying out of the box will be critical for both teams this weekend.
Ohio State is fourth in the Big Ten in overall scoring offense with 3.14 goals per game, while Notre Dame is just behind them with 3.07 goals per game.
Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris earned Big Ten First Star of the Week honors after making 48 saves during Notre Dame’s 5-3 win over Penn State on Friday and a career high 55 saves during the Irish’s 2-2 tie with the Nittany Lions last Saturday. Morris also stopped a penalty shot in overtime and made three shootout saves during Saturday’s game. Notre Dame forward Dylan Malmquist has been on fire recently, having scored three goals in his last three games.
The Last Time
These two teams played each other earlier this year when they met at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio for a series back on Nov. 3-4. It was Notre Dame’s first ever conference series as a member of the Big Ten, and they made quite the introduction. The Irish swept the Buckeyes in their home rink by scores of 4-1 and 3-2. The two victories were wins No. 2 and 3 during Notre Dame’s record 16 game winning streak earlier this season. Cal Burke and Dylan Malmquist both scored twice during the series in addition to goals by Cam Morrison, Colin Theisen, and Jake Evans. Morris made a total of 23 and 39 saves, respectively, during the two-game sweep.
I feel like this series will be a lot closer than the one these teams’ played earlier in the season. A lot will be on the line this weekend. This is pretty much Ohio State’s last chance to gain any ground on Notre Dame and try and make a last ditch run at winning the Big Ten regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. You have to expect the Buckeyes will try to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Notre Dame. However, last weekend proved that Notre Dame can thrive under heavy pressure, and I expect the Irish to feed off of what’s expected to be a sellout crowd to try and clinch the regular season title in front of their home fans.
I predict Morris and company will do just that. Notre Dame by 4-3 and 3-2 scores.