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Notre Dame travels to Ohio State with first place on the line

| Friday, February 1, 2019

Before the Irish took on Michigan State last weekend the team was nine points out of first place in the Big Ten and only three points out of last. The Irish needed points and got them, taking five points from the Spartans with a win and a shootout win. Now the Irish find themselves in second place in the Big Ten just four points behind Ohio State.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior forward Dylan Malmquist skates with the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 win over RPI on Nov. 30 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

This weekend the Irish (14-8-3, 7-6-2 Big Ten) will travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a two-game set with the Buckeyes (15-5-4, 8-3-3 Big Ten) that could launch them into first place with two wins. These are the final games between the Irish and the Buckeyes this season, so the Irish will likely need to take advantage if they are to win back-to-back Big Ten regular-season crowns. Irish junior forward Mike O’Leary knows that Ohio State is not going to give them anything.

“Ohio State has always been really hard to play against. They play really structured,” O’Leary said. “We have to make sure we play our game. If we do that, we should have success.”

O’Leary has become a huge part of the Irish game in recent weeks. After injuries to junior forwards Cal Burke and Cam Morrison, the team had to look elsewhere for scoring. Head coach Jeff Jackson put O’Leary with junior forward Dylan Malmquist and freshman forward Michael Graham against Michigan State (9-13-4, 5-8-3 Big Ten), and the line exploded with offense. On Friday, the line combined for four goals and seven assists, and were the foundation of the Irish power play. O’Leary believes his line’s success comes down to unselfishness.

“We’re all really unselfish players. We’re always looking for each other and trying to make those extra little plays,” O’Leary said. “We’ve been good communicating out there too which has helped a lot.”

Another important trend beyond the Irish’s top line success was the play of their junior goaltender Cale Morris. Morris made 78 saves on the weekend and surrendered just four goals. In Friday’s game, the Irish sometimes spent minutes down a man with the Spartans on their heels, but Morris stood tall throughout the second period, making 18 saves and giving up one goal. O’Leary had high praise for the team’s top to bottom contributions and the play of his goaltender against Michigan State.

“Everybody was contributing, we had all four lines playing and finding ways to help us win,” O’Leary said. “Obviously Cale [Morris] was doing everything he could to help us win. It was a group collective effort.”

In order to take control of the Big Ten, the Irish now turn their attention from Michigan State to Ohio State. The Buckeyes were idle last weekend, and will come into this weekend well-rested to give the Irish everything they have. The Irish continue to be without Morrison and Cal Burke, who are both week to week, and senior forward Joe Wegwerth who is out for the season. The Irish have next weekend off, so it is possible these could be the last games the Irish will have to play without both their top scorers. If the Irish can collect enough points this weekend to stay with Ohio State in the standings, reinforcements could be arriving soon to help the Irish down the stretch.

The Irish will take on Ohio State at 7 p.m. on Friday and 8 p.m. on Saturday at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

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