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Hockey: Tourney hopes dwindling

Kyle Cassily | Monday, February 25, 2008

Notre Dame continues to slip and slide its way farther away from the NCAA Tournament in the second half of the season after a strong first half created high expectations for the young team.

The No. 9 Irish (21-11-4, 14-8-4 CCHA) needed a sweep, or at least no losses, against Ohio State to maintain a grip on a spot in the NCAA tournament, but after a 3-1 loss Friday night and 2-2 tie in the Saturday end cap, Notre Dame continued to stumble in the second half of this season.

“I talked to our team about it three weeks ago. They know what’s going on,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “I think that that pressure has hurt us – I think the pressure of higher expectations and pressure of that Tournament situation.”

Jackson said the goal for Notre Dame all along has been to return to the CCHA semifinals and finals at Joe Louis Arena, but the most important thing is getting there while playing good hockey. Because if they aren’t playing great hockey, he said, they won’t be hanging out in the Joe for long.

The Irish, however, clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA tournament with the tie and Bowling Green’s 2-1 win over fifth-place Ferris State. Notre Dame locked up fourth place in the regular season, which will give them home ice in the second round of the tournament in mid-March.

The Buckeyes (11-21-4, 7-16-3) entered the weekend in 10th place in the CCHA, but played like they were an NCAA contender in front of goaltender Joseph Palmer, who made 58 saves in the two games. Palmer was aided by Notre Dame’s poor shot selection – the Irish tucked those shots that hit the net neatly into the sophomore’s chest protector.

“We’re off perimeter and we’re missing the net a lot,” left wing Dan Kissel said. “Coach always talks about how we’re missing the net, so we gotta hit the net. We have great shooters on our team too, it’s just a slump. We’re snakebit right now.”

The Irish scored only three goals in their 61 shots against the Buckeyes. Last weekend in a win and a tie against Alaska, Notre Dame potted three goals in 71 shots.

Ohio State, whose roster lists 15 freshmen, played more freshmen than any other class Saturday night, suiting up 10 rookies and eight non-freshmen.

Ohio State 3, Notre Dame 1

The Irish scored first, but the Buckeyes scored a last-second goal in the second period that proved to be the game-winner.

Buckeyes center Patrick Schafer backhanded the puck over the top of Irish goalie Jordan Pearce (20 saves) with six seconds remaining in the second period to give Ohio State the 2-1 lead. Schafer picked up the puck in the lower left circle after Pearce rejected a wraparound from left wing Tom Fritsche.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing for me because I have to watch them go through this,” Jackson said. “I know it’s not that they’re not trying, it’s not that they’re not listening. It’s just a matter of right now everyone we’re playing is playing tough.”

Notre Dame scored with 19 seconds left in the first period to take the 1-0 lead when the puck bounced off the skate of right wing Evan Rankin in front of the net and past Palmer. The shot came from center Christian Hanson on the left side after he received a pass from left wing Dan Kissel.

The Irish, however, got only three shots on net in the second period and the Buckeyes capitalized with the tying and game-winning goals.

Buckeyes right wing Tommy Goebel tied the game at 1-1 when his soft wrist shot worked its way along the ice under the pads of Pearce at 16:37 of the second period.

In the third period, Notre Dame couldn’t get many quality scoring chances past the Buckeyes defense and onto Palmer. The Irish almost surrendered another goal when Pearce came out of the net and played the puck up the boards right to an Ohio State player. The shot was saved from the empty net by defenseman Ian Cole, who was in front to block it.

Ohio State added an empty-net goal to put the game out of reach at 3-1 with eight seconds left in the third after defenseman Brett Blatchford misplayed the puck along the blue line and let it get past him.

Notre Dame 2, Ohio State 2

Both teams traded goals in the first and second periods before skating to a scoreless third and overtime in a game that saw 27 penalties whistled for 54 minutes.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year that we’d finish in the top four, I would have been pretty pleased,” Jackson said. “The big thing is we have three weeks to get ourselves ready for the playoffs and to me that’s the most important thing.”

Notre Dame struggled to generate offense in the first period in between man-down and power play situations. Ohio State capitalized, scoring a goal 12:30 into the period before it was disallowed for a high stick. But the Buckeyes struck on the power play four minutes later.

Irish defenseman Stewart Carlin whiffed on a puck in front of the Notre Dame net, and Ohio State left wing Todd Rudasill backhanded it past Pearce for an easy goal and the 1-0 lead.

Notre Dame tied the game at 1-1 only 12 seconds into the second period when right wing Erik Condra put home a rebound off a shot from Cole on the power play.

“I was just trying to get passes up [to the forwards], letting them do whatever they do,” Cole said. “It’s trying to make simple plays and getting it to guys who can score goals.”

The two teams then scored another goal apiece, Ohio State scoring four minutes after the Condra goal on a hard, top-shelf shot from left wing Sergio Somma. The Irish tied it at 2-2 when a Kissel slap shot from the left circle blasted past Palmer’s blocker side 14:56 into the second.

The Irish increased their chances in the third period as the game became rougher. With three minutes left in the second period Irish defenseman Dan Venard had his helmet ripped off in a scrap with Rudasill. VeNard continued to try to fight the helmeted Rudasill with no head protection until the referee pried the senior assistant captain away from him.

Neither side could find the back of the net in the overtime period, the best chance coming on a shot from Hanson that was buried into Palmer’s leg pads.


Irish defenseman Kyle Lawson missed both games this weekend with an upper-body injury. It isn’t clear whether he will return next weekend against Western Michigan.