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ND HOCKEY: Irish travel to Ohio State

Chris Khorey | Friday, January 27, 2006

After splitting with the CCHA’s second best team on the road last weekend, the Irish will be away from the Joyce Center tonight as they travel to Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio to face the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Since going 1-1 against Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich. last Friday and Saturday, Notre Dame (8-13-3, 6-9-3 in the CCHA), currently resides in 10th place in the league. But their 15 points put the Irish only three points behind the Buckeyes, making this weekend a crucial chance to move up in the standings.

“The most important thing right now is to get points every weekend,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Our main goal right now is to go into every game trying to steal a point or two, especially with all these road games.”

Ohio State, which was picked to win the CCHA at the beginning of the season, is a disappointing 12-10-4, but Jackson said the Buckeyes are still dangerous.

“It’s hard to say what’s happened this season for them,” he said. “Different things happen with different teams.”

The Buckeyes are led by sophomore forward Tom Fritche, who has 22 points on the season including eight goals. Senior Dave Caruso has been a stalwart in the net, starting 23 games and allowing just 1.71 goals per contest.

Ohio State swept a weekend series in South Bend 4-1 and 5-2 the weekend of Nov. 25-26 in what Jackson called “our worst weekend of the season.”

The Irish come into the rematch with a mild goalie controversy. After starting every game since November, Dave Brown was pulled in the second period of Saturday’s 4-3 win with the team trailing 3-1. Jackson replaced the junior with freshman Jordan Pearce. Notre Dame erased the deficit as Pearce shut out the Wildcats for a period and a half. Freshman Erik Condra put the winning shot past Northern goalie Bill Zaniboni with 12:10 left in the game.

“Jordan gave us a chance to win the game Saturday,” Jackson said. “If I’ve learned anything from that it’s that he plays better when he doesn’t know he’s going to play in advance. He came in on just a moment’s notice and played great.”

Condra leads the Irish in scoring with 23 points this year. That number, which includes 19 assists, leads all CCHA rookies and places him No. 10 nationally among first-year players.

“Erik’s been more consistent than any forward all season long as far as every shift, every game,” Jackson said. “He plays a very tenacious game, he takes advantage of his skills. I’m really impressed with his decision making with the puck.”

The come-from-behind win marked the first time the Irish have won this season after trailing at the end of the second period. Notre Dame is now 1-13-0 this year when trailing entering the third period.

“I’d like to believe that we’re learning to win close games,” Jackson said. “We’ve taken some time to learn some lessons, and I’m not sure we’re going to learn all of our lessons this year. If we’re behind going into the third period, we need to have the motivation to come back and win those games.”

The Irish were not the only team traveling to northern latitudes last weekend as Ohio State was on the road at Alaska-Fairbanks. The Nanooks and Buckeyes split the series.

Jackson said that, while the long trip will have taken its toll, he doesn’t expect his team have any extra advantage this weekend.

“You usually see some effects on a team that just went to Alaska, but we just had a nine hour bus trip ourselves,” he said. “If we had played at home, it might have made a bigger impact.”

Ohio State has won the last six meetings with the Irish, including the two wins in South Bend earlier this season. The last Notre Dame win came in November of 2003. Overall, the Buckeyes lead the series 24-21-6.