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Hockey: Irish assistant’s number retired

Kyle Cassily | Friday, November 3, 2006

Ohio State will retire its first hockey number during the opening intermission of Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, but the legendary Buckeye must step off the Irish bench before his jersey can be raised to the rafters.Notre Dame assistant coach Paul Pooley, a first-team All-America and finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for Ohio State in 1984, will have his No. 22 sweater retired during a Buckeye hockey alumni weekend.Pooley said he learned last year that Ohio State was going to retire his jersey when the Irish played the Buckeyes at Value City Arena Jan. 27, but a group of alumni convened and postponed the ceremony until an entire weekend could be planned around it.And now that weekend has arrived as the two teams will play a pair of CCHA games in Columbus – the only time they will meet this season – amid alumni receptions, tours and, of course, No. 22’s retirement.”It was a great honor,” Pooley said. “And I feel humbled by it, because there are a lot of great hockey players that I’ve played with and have been there since.”Pooley is Ohio State’s all-time point leader, goal scorer and assist leaders (270 points, 114 goals, 156 assists), which ranks him No. 20 all-time in NCAA history for points. In his senior season he set single-season Buckeye records for points (96) and assists (64).Pooley, however, said he has no intention to return to coach his alma mater – he served as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes from 1989-91, before serving three seasons as an assistant under Irish coach Jeff Jackson at Lake Superior State and 11 years as head coach at Providence College.”I’m at Notre Dame, I’m here to work with Jeff,” he said. “We’re here to rebuild this program.”The two-game set with the Buckeyes will be No. 10 Notre Dame’s first league games this season after the team opened up its schedule with six non-conference matchups, earning a 5-1 record – the best Irish start since 1998. Ohio State (2-4, 2-2 CCHA) split a pair of two-game series with both Lake Superior and Northern Michigan and dropped two games to No. 2 Minnesota.Pooley said the team was able to find suitable roles and line pairings for its players through the non-conference schedule.”It’s given us a chance to figure out where our guys fit, who needs to be in this post,” he said. “It gives us a chance to feel better about our club, than we [normally] would early on.”And the Irish have every right to feel better about their club – especially about the defense. The blue-line unit has allowed just one goal per game, making it the top-rated defense in the country and far ahead of second place Maine (1.50 goals per game).Irish senior defenseman Noah Babin said he didn’t even know his defense was ranked so highly, but he attributed its success to the team attitude.”I think there’s just a really good chemistry in the locker room,” he said. “More than anything, I think the guys are really playing together, and everybody just works really well on the ice, off the ice. I think overall we have a better attitude in every aspect of our game.”The Irish are eighth in the country in offense, averaging 4.33 goals per game (26 goals overall). And goaltender Dave Brown is second in the nation in goals-against average (1.18) and save percentage (.954), behind Alaska-Fairbanks goalie Chad Johnson in both categories.But despite the early Irish success and the Buckeyes’ struggles, this weekend will be all about revenge. Last season, the Irish were crushed 4-1 and 5-2 by Ohio State at home during Thanksgiving weekend on national television.”The only thing that is in my thoughts – and I think in a lot of the other guys thoughts – is that last year we played them here and we got absolutely embarrassed,” Babin said. “That’s what we’re thinking about.”The Buckeyes have also dominated the play between the two teams since 2000-2001, holding a 13-2-3 edge.Ohio State entered the season with the daunting task of replacing senior goaltender David Caruso. The Buckeyes have chosen so far to platoon freshmen netminders Joseph Palmer and Nick Filion – and rank last in the league in defense.”There’s certainly a learning curve with freshmen,” Pooley said. “Goaltending is probably the toughest position to get into.”Tonight’s game can be seen at 8:05 p.m. on CSTV. Saturday’s game will not be televised, but the puck will drop at Value City Arena at 7:05 p.m.