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Busy stretch awaits the Irish

Justin Schuver | Friday, January 14, 2005

For a team that has had its share of early troubles, the next few days might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Irish (5-11-5, 3-9-4 in the CCHA) start their busiest stretch of the year Friday, in which they will play five games in nine days. Notre Dame faces No. 12 Ohio State (13-6-3, 10-3-1) in a two-game series this weekend at the Joyce Center, then travels to Green Bay, Wisc., to face Michigan State in an unusual Tuesday night matchup. The team finishes up its hectic streak with a two-game series next weekend against Wisconsin, with the Saturday night game to be played at Chicago’s Allstate Arena.

“It’s a great thing,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “A lot of times you focus too much on what you’re struggling with, when you’re not playing games. I honestly feel that this weekend is a great test for us, but it’s also a great time for us to step up.”

The Irish might relish the large span of games, especially with three of them against non-conference opponents. But first, they must take care of business against conference foe Ohio State, who comes into the Joyce Center ranked second in the conference with a 10-3-1 record.

The Buckeyes split their last series against Ferris State, beating the Bulldogs 3-1 on Jan. 7 in Columbus, Ohio, before dropping the Saturday game by a score of 3-2 in overtime. Ferris State is currently one of two teams – Miami (Ohio) is the other – tied with Notre Dame for ninth in the conference with 10 points.

Last weekend, Notre Dame visited Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for a series with conference foe Lake Superior State, tying 1-1 on Friday and then losing in overtime 2-1 Saturday. The Irish are 1-4-1 in their last six CCHA games.

One reason for Notre Dame’s difficulty this season has been a lack of scoring goals. The Irish are dead last in the CCHA with a woeful scoring average of 1.67 goals per game – Lake Superior State is 11th with a 2.35 goals per game average.

Even with its anemic offense, the Irish have still been able to keep games close thanks to the play of senior goalie Morgan Cey, who has a record of 3-6-4. Cey’s 2.24 goals against average is fourth in the CCHA, while his .928 save percentage is currently ranked second.

“[Cey is] a senior, and he wants to see this team win,” Poulin said. “He’s seen this team have so much success over his career, and I think he looks at is as saying, ‘I’m a senior, and I want this team to go out in a blaze of glory.’

“This team can definitely rely on its goaltending, but I think maybe we’re relying on it a bit too much right now. “

The Buckeyes counter Notre Dame’s goaltending with an impressive goalie of their own. Dave Caruso has collected an 11-4-3 record this season with a 2.24 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Both marks rank in the top six of all CCHA goalies.

Ohio State’s real strength is on offense, where the Buckeyes rank second in the CCHA with a 3.41 goals per game average.

Junior Rod Pelley (12 goals, 10 assists) and freshman Todd Fritsche (three goals, 19 assists) lead the Buckeyes with 22 points each. Defenseman Sean Collins’ 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) is the second best scoring total among CCHA defensemen.

The Buckeyes have ridden their talented special teams to the top of the CCHA standings, as well. Ohio State’s 19.1 percent power play rate is fifth in the conference and its 87.9 percent killing rate is first.

Notre Dame drops the puck against Ohio State at the Joyce Center tonight at 7:35 p.m., and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.