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Irish face Ohio State in quarters of CCHA

Justin Schuver | Thursday, March 18, 2004

The teams are the same once again, but the Irish are hoping for a better result this time around.Notre Dame advanced to the CCHA Super Six at Joe Louis Arena for the third year in a row, and the fourth time in five years. The No. 5 seed Irish (20-13-4) will open play Thursday at 7:35 p.m. against No. 4 seed Ohio State (23-15-0).The Irish moved on to the Super Six this year by defeating Western Michigan two games to one in a series held last weekend at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame came away with a 5-4 overtime victory in the pivotal game three, with freshman Jason Paige picking up the game-winning goal.”I think [Sunday night’s game] gave us a great character experience,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “When you’ve won a game in overtime, you get a chance to live through something that can’t be taught or coached.”Yes, it was painful at times to watch, but the experience will help us.”For the second straight year, the Irish face Ohio State in the Super Six. Last year, the Buckeyes ended Notre Dame’s season with a 3-2 victory.”Quote about playing Ohio State yet again,” Poulin said.This year, the Super Six holds extra significance for both teams, as each is fighting for a chance at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. In the PairWise Rankings – one of the key components for determining the NCAA berths – Ohio State sits tied for 10th, and Notre Dame is in 13th place.With only 16 teams eligible for the tournament, the Irish hope to take the decision out of the hands of the selection committee by not only beating Ohio State, but advancing as far into the Super Six as they can.”I’ve been in a situation before where we were almost in and we got left out of the bracket,” Poulin said. “I never want to put it in the committee’s hands again. I want it in our hands, to where we control it, and we don’t have to wait for six gentleman to decide for us.”It’s in our hands right now, and that’s how we want it.”Despite making it to Joe Louis Arena so many times in the past, the Irish have not actually won a game in the CCHA Super Six since an 8-5 victory over Bowling Green during the 1981-82 season – back during Poulin’s playing days.During Notre Dame’s current three game Super Six streak, the Irish have fallen in the first round each time – in 2000 the team lost 4-0 to Michigan State, in 2001 the Irish lost 3-1 to Northern Michigan and in 2002 the team lost 3-2 to the Buckeyes.”It’s definitely about taking the next step,” Poulin said. “We have to do that as a program. Part of it was getting home ice, not having to travel late Sunday night and we took care of that part. We’d love to have done it in two games but it was a really hard-fought series.”Now we have to go take care of business and that’s what it comes down to. Our goal is to go to Joe Louis, and win a game, and then win the next game, and then play in the championship game and win that one too.”The Irish face an opponent Thursday that they haven’t seen since the beginning of the season, when Notre Dame traveled to Columbus to face Ohio State in a two game series Oct. 10-11. The two teams split that series, with Notre Dame winning 5-2 Oct. 10 and Ohio State getting revenge Oct. 11 with a 3-1 victory over the Irish.Looking at the statistics, the two teams really couldn’t be more even. Notre Dame just finished one point behind Ohio State in the final CCHA standings this season, and each team has a remarkably similar style.Both squads play solid defense (Notre Dame has a 2.33 goals against average, while Ohio State holds a 2.49 GAA) and neither gives up too many shots (Notre Dame allows 29.5 per game while the Buckeyes allow 30.8). Special teams are remarkably similar, which is one reason why Poulin believes that the key against the Buckeyes will be who wins the even-strength battle.”I think both teams are really disciplined,” Poulin said. “Both teams kill penalties really well, and I think that 5-on-5 is probably what it’s going to come down to.”The Buckeyes have a good balance on offense, with five players who have scored 10 or more goals this season. Thirteen players have hit double digits in points for the year. Paul Caponigri is the team’s leading scorer with 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists), while Dave Steckel leads the team with 16 goals.Perhaps Ohio State’s most solid position is in the net, where senior Mike Betz has been a consistent stopper all season for the Buckeyes, with a 2.40 GAA and a save percentage of .912 in CCHA play this season.No. 6 Northern Michigan and No. 3 Michigan State face off in the other quarterfinal Thursday, just before Notre Dame faces Ohio State. The semifinals of the CCHA Super Six will be played Friday, with Michigan facing the lowest remaining seed in a 4:05 p.m. game. Miami will face the other seed later that night at 7:35 p.m.The third place game will be at 3:35 p.m. Saturday, and the title game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.