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Hockey: Postseason begins with OSU

Chris Allen | Thursday, March 1, 2012

After a disappointing regular season in which Notre Dame dropped from preseason No. 1 to No. 18 at the close of the schedule, the Irish (17-16-3, 12-13-3-0 CCHA) begin the postseason in the first round of the CCHA tournament by hosting Ohio State in a three-game series.

Irish senior captain and forward Billy Maday said the team has the opportunity to define its season with a playoff run, regardless of how the regular season ended.

“I think there’s nowhere else to go but up,” Maday said. “Our attitudes are good right now, everyone’s positive, and we look at the playoff season as a fresh season. Everything else that happened negatively is in the past, and we’re just looking forward and trying to put together a string of wins.”

The Irish pulled off a split against No. 15 Michigan State at home last weekend, and the three points enabled the Irish to move into a tie in points with Ohio State (15-13-5, 11-12-5-1) for eighth place in the CCHA. Because they hold the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes, the Irish received home ice in the crucial first-round series and now will benefit from the playoff atmosphere in Compton Family Ice Arena’s first postseason game.

“[Getting home ice] was really important,” Maday said. “We recognize the road you have to go through to get to [Joe Louis Arena in Detroit] is a tough one, and any time you can grab a home series for at least one round is huge. Playing in front of your home fans will definitely help with playoff hockey.”

The match-up with the Buckeyes pits two teams who have had remarkably similar seasons against each other on the ice. Ohio State got off to a blistering start in both non-conference and early CCHA play and climbed to No. 2 in the national rankings at its highest point. Since then, the team has slid dramatically and fell out of the national polls after being swept by Miami last weekend. Maday said the team is aware that Ohio State, like Notre Dame, has struggled heading into this weekend’s series.

“We understand that they were pretty hot early on, then fell into a similar situation that we did,” he said. “We’re expecting a hardworking team that’s going to do whatever they can to try to win the series, just like we are. We have to bring our effort, we have to play disciplined and execute our system, I think, in order to advance.”

Sophomore winger Jeff Costello, who recently returned from prolonged injury to deepen the top Irish lines, said the series will come down to confidence on the ice.

“Ohio State is very good. They’ve been struggling recently, but so have we, and we know the potential threat of teams that haven’t been playing as well as they want to,” Costello said. “I think we need to just play physically, play with confidence, which is something we haven’t been doing too much lately.”

The series is critical for Notre Dame’s chances at selection in the NCAA tournament. The Irish and Buckeyes are tied for the No. 18 spot in the PairWise rankings. The top 11 teams in the PairWise rankings, after automatic bids have been awarded to conference champions, round out the tournament field. If Notre Dame wins this weekend’s series they will travel to play against No. 3 Ferris State, No. 6 Michigan or No. 16 Western Michigan. Maday said it is crucial the team takes advantage of the home series to boost its PairWise ranking.

“I think everyone’s been looking at the rankings and doing some math problems, and I think we control our destiny to have a legitimate shot, and this is something we definitely need – to put a couple of wins together here,” he said.

The puck will drop in Friday and Saturday’s contests at 7:35 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena, with the rubber game Sunday getting underway at 7:05 p.m. if necessary.