COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s easy to call any tied game “hard-fought,” but the 4-4 decision Saturday between Notre Dame and Ohio State looked more like hard scrabble, as neither team played well defensively, neither goaltender found much help in front of the net, and neither team sustained any kind of momentum.
But each team managed some offense, and the Fighting Irish — clearly outgunned as OSU outshot them 36-26 — turned tenacity into a tie, capitalizing on two second-period Buckeye defensive zone turnovers to keep the game from getting away from them.
Buckeye junior Miguel Lafleche notched a goal and an assist and OSU sophomore Dave Steckel had two helpers, as did Notre Dame junior Connor Dunlop.
The match, which clearly looked like an early-season contest, “got better as it went on,” said Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. “We’re still a team that’s going to win that game when we win that game. That’s when we’re going to win that game.”
John Markell, OSU head coach, said that each team could have looked better in spots. “It was the first of the year, two hockey clubs that are very much part of the CCHA that are fighting for points and know how important points are the first of the season. I thought it was a little bit sloppy at points on both teams, but it’s our second game of the year … and right now we’ll take that point.”
Paul Caponigri, on OSU’s new first line with R.J. Umberger and Dave Steckel, put the Buckeyes on the board first at 5:28 in the opening stanza, when both he and the puck went crashing into the net, courtesy of Irish defender Neil Komadoski.
Caponigri took a cross-ice pass from Steckel in the Ohio State defensive zone and broke in through the neutral zone and down the right wing, chased by Komadoski the whole way. When Caponigri went to move across the crease from right to left, Komadoski road him, the puck — and Irish netminder Morgan Cey — into the Notre Dame cage.
Poulin wasn’t entirely happy that the goal counted. “Obviously, it’s a subjective call on Pi’s [referee Steve Piotrowski's] part in terms of going to the net hard, whether or not a kid is pushed.”
Freshman Brad Wanchulak countered for the Irish with a one-timer from
the far side of the right circle to tie it up at 10:22. Wanchulak’s
blast beat Mike Betz clean to make it a 1-1 game.
The Buckeyes took the lead again at 13:56 with Lafleche’s unassisted goal. Pressuring Notre Dame in the Irish zone, Lafleche stole the puck near the boards, skated in through the left circle, switched from backhand to forehand, and flipped the puck past Cey to the opposite side of the net, giving the Buckeyes the 2-1 lead at the end of one.
The two squads traded goals in the second period, beginning with Daymen Bencharski’s tally at 3:09 to give the Bucks a 3-1 lead.
After Cey denied Bencharski on his first attempt, the puck rebounded out to Lafleche, who centered it back to Bencharski in front of the crease. Bencharski’s next shot hit Cey’s stick and popped immediately back to the sophomore winger, who lifted it up and over the sprawled Irish goaltender.
Three minutes later, that Irish tenacity paid off when Aaron Gill and David Inman capitalized on a turnover in the OSU defensive zone. After Inman fought for and won the puck in the right circle when the Buckeyes were attempting to move up the ice, he passed through the slot to Gill, who simply shoveled the puck up and in over Betz’s left shoulder, pulling Notre Dame within one at 6:51.
OSU answered a little over a minute later, when Steckel fed Umberger in the Buckeye end. Umberger — who couldn’t score an ugly goal if you paid him — flew down the ice and through the right circle, muscled his way past an Irish defender, and shot off balance as he passed the cage, going short-side on Cey. At 8:00 in the second, the Buckeyes led 4-2.
“That fourth goal was one that we’ve been very descriptive of to our guys,” said Poulin. “That was frustrating, when Umberger slipped behind the D.”
The Irish pulled within one again when Connor Dunlop stripped a Buckeye defender in the OSU end and centered one for Evan Nielson, who scored clean from just beyond the crease at 15:35.
The second period ended 4-3 in Ohio State’s favor.
Notre Came actually outshot Ohio State in the third period, when the intensity level of the game went up, but the timing was little better. At 14:02, Michael Chin’s goal from Komadoski and Dunlop knotted the game at four each, and — offensively — that’s all anyone wrote.
“I thought we got into trouble a little bit defensively,” said Markell. “We have to make some adjustments to their system. You’re never quite sure what they’re going to do. We’re going to watch tape and see what we can get done to clean up our own zone.”
Poulin said that the two Irish second-period goals, both of which resulted from forced turnovers in the OSU defensive zone, were especially welcome, since “[scripted] systems don’t always kick in early.”
Cey finished with 32 saves on the night for Notre Dame, while OSU’s Betz stopped 22 shots.
Neither team scored on the power play in a game that saw few penalties. The Irish were 0-for-2 with the man advantage, while the Buckeyes went 0-for-4.
Notre Dame (0-2-1) and Ohio State (0-0-1) meet again for their final regular-season match Sunday at 4:05 p.m. in the Value City Arena.