Irish claim Big Ten regular-season title before dropping second game to Ohio State
Notre Dame captured the Big Ten regular season in the program’s first-ever season in the conference this past weekend, as the No. 1 Irish took on No. 6 Ohio State at Compton Family Ice Arena.
A lot was on the line for both teams this weekend. If the Irish (22-6-2, 16-3-1-1 Big Ten) earned three conference points through either a win or a shootout win combined with a tie, they would win the Big Ten regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament. Ohio State (19-7-4, 12-7-1-0) entered the weekend in second place in the standings, 13 points behind Notre Dame. The Buckeyes needed two wins to keep up with Notre Dame in the regular season title hunt.
Ohio State got off to a fast start Friday night, recording eight of the first 10 shots on goal by either team. However, behind the efforts of Hobey Baker award candidate and sophomore goalie Cale Morris, Notre Dame weathered the early storm and found its footing.
The Irish struck first when junior forward Andrew Oglevie took a feed from junior forward Dylan Malmquist and one-timed it into the back of the net to give Notre Dame an early 1-0 lead 12:49 into the first period.
But Ohio State responded by scoring a power play goal just under seven minutes in the second period to tie the score 1-1.
Less than three minutes later, sophomore forward Cam Morrison kept a Buckeye clearing attempt in the offensive zone, and the puck found senior forward Jake Evans. Evans made a quick pass to senior defenseman Jordan Gross, who fired the puck past Ohio State goaltender Sean Romeo to put Notre Dame back on top 2-1 with 10:24 left in the second period.
Both teams had quality scoring opportunities the rest of the way but couldn’t find the back of the net. In the end, it was once again sophomore goaltender Cale Morris and the Irish who were able to close the door on a 2-1 victory. Morris finished with 31 saves on 32 shots faced.
After the final horn sounded, the team was awarded the Big Ten Conference regular season championship trophy in a presentation on the ice. It is the third regular season championship title in the program’s history. The previous two came in 2007 and 2009 when Notre Dame was a member of the CCHA conference.
After winning the title, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson described how similar this game felt to a playoff game.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Jackson said. “For me, the reward is watching the kids and watching them celebrate it. They battled tonight. That was a playoff game, the intensity Ohio State played with. We matched it pretty well, and I was really proud of the guys’ effort tonight. It’s an incredible feather in their cap, but as I’ve mentioned to them, it’s just one step of the process. There’s more to play for out there, and we just have to make sure we’re out there working again tomorrow.”
Jackson said timing played a role in Notre Dame winning the conference in its first season in the Big Ten.
“It’s timing to some degree,” Jackson said. “This is the first time we’ve had a little bit more of a veteran team in a few years. Obviously, the emergence of Cale Morris has given our team a lot of confidence. When you see plays like Jack Jenkins blocking a shot out there tonight, some of the other guys taking hits, those are the encouraging things. In past years, maybe we haven’t won games like that because of the battle level. Tonight, we matched them toe-to-toe.”
Jackson also mentioned the significance of winning the championship on home ice.
“That’s even better,” Jackson said. “For our band, our student section, our fans that weathered the weather, I appreciate them getting out here. It made it that much more of a special environment for our guys, and it’s even more rewarding that we could do it in front of our home crowd.”
But Saturday, the Buckeyes got their revenge, as the Irish suffered a tough 5-1 loss.
In the first period, Notre Dame had a number of scoring opportunities but was unable to capitalize. The Irish had two power-play chances but failed to capitalize on either. Nine minutes into the period, Ohio State forward Matthew Weis scored on a deflected slap shot to make Notre Dame pay for its missed opportunities.
Down by one goal heading into the second period, the Irish tried to mount a comeback. But nine minutes in, Ohio State’s Matt Joyaux slotted in a wrist shot on an odd man rush, giving the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead. But with two minutes remaining, the Irish got a power-play opportunity. Fifteen seconds later, Morrison scored on a slap shot, decreasing the Ohio State lead to two.
But in the third period, Ohio State ran away with the game. After neither side jumped out to an early advantage, Kevin Miller and Sam McCormick scored a minute between each other to give the Buckeyes a comfortable 4-1 lead. Following McCormick’s goal, Jackson pulled Morris, and freshman Dylan St. Cyr took over in net. With four minutes left in the game, Brendon Kearney sealed the 5-1 Ohio State victory with an empty-net goal.
Jackson emphasized the talent of Ohio State postgame, and he said even small mistakes against such a skilled team will be costly.
“We didn’t have the same edge that we had last night,” Jackson said. “First of all, Ohio State is a good hockey team, so if you give them opportunities, they’re going to take advantage. I thought we made some uncharacteristic plays with the puck that led to odd-man rush situations that ended up costing us. And that’s uncharacteristic for us — we’ve been really good at avoiding those kind of turnovers. We also took a couple penalties that I thought were unnecessary. So to me, I don’t think we had the same focus or the same mindset.”
The Irish are nearing the end of the regular season, and Jackson said the team needs to keep improving in order to have success in the playoffs.
“It’s really up to them to determine how they want to finish off the regular season,” Jackson said. “We’re playing for more than just what we played for last night — there is more out there. I don’t want to go into the playoffs sloppy. We’re also playing for NCAA seeding. So that’ll take a hit tonight, because the teams we are competing with at the top of the NCAA, they’re not losing games. … We have to make sure that we’re working to get better, though, because we’re going to play one of these teams again in the second round of the playoffs, and if we’re not ready for it, we’ll be done early.”