COLUMBUS, Ohio — After what Buckeye captain J.B. Bittner called an “embarrassing” 5-2 loss to the visiting Fighting Irish to begin the CCHA season Friday night, Ohio State rebounded Saturday to beat Notre Dame 3-1 and earn a split for the series.
Bittner himself netted the game-winning goal at 11:20 in the third, breaking a 1-1 tie that persisted through the second period and giving Buckeye fans a glimpse of why their team was nationally ranked to start the season — something that was completely lacking in Friday’s game.
“I think the kids prepared to play,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “It was obvious when we went over the tape [of Friday's] game that they didn’t like what they saw. That wasn’t the type of team that they were at all.”
Daymen Bencharski and Dave Steckel scored the other two OSU goals, and Mike Betz earned his first win of the season, after having to watch from the bench the night before.
“Mike had a great game,” said Markell. “He saw the puck well and [rebounds] were going into the corners.”
For the Irish, rookie goaltender David Brown looked impressive in the loss with 36 saves. As in Friday’s contest, Notre Dame played solid, disciplined, even, tenacious hockey.
“We lost one period of hockey this weekend, and we lost two points,” said Irish head coach Dave Poulin. “I don’t think our effort was as smart as it was last night; I think it was as good as it was, but it wasn’t as smart as it was.”
Bencharski opened the scoring assisted by two defensemen, Matt Waddell and Nate Guenin, on a slow backhander at 2:44 in the second period.
Tim Wallace answered for Notre Dame less than two minutes later, when an off-balance Betz couldn’t stop the rebound from Cory McLean’s initial shot, and the second period ended 1-1.
Both third-period OSU goals came from a combination of heads-up setup and crashing speed on the part of the scorer. Bittner flew at the net to drive in Andrew Schembri’s feed from the right corner, and Steckel came out of nowhere to make good use of Paul Caponigri’s rebounded shot at 18:05.
“On the third goal, it was a great play by Cappy,” said Markell, “but Steckel came from eight zones back to score the goal.”
Neither team converted on the power play in what was a cleaner yet more physical game than Friday’s match. Rob Globke, who had a hat trick in Notre Dame’s win, was thwarted on six shots in the match, but he wasn’t alone in his frustration; his teammate, Brett Lebda, also had five chances, including two good shots from high in the slot in the third.
For the Buckeyes, Rod Pelley threw everything he had at Brown, especially in the second period when the freshman netminder stopped him cold from point-blank range three times.
As for OSU’s reversal of fortune, all Buckeyes agreed that it was a team effort — from the coaching staff on down.
“Our coaching staff did a really good job this weekend holding guys accountable and making the right moves, whether it was with the lineups or what to say before the game,” said Betz, whose Friday benching marked the first time in the senior’s career that he did not start in net for the CCHA opener. “I think they really adjusted and got us to play well.”
“I thought things really cleaned up in our end, and we didn’t allow them to have the speed through the neutral zone that they had last night,” said Markell, who was quick to add that the win did not come easy.
“We beat a good hockey club there tonight. They came to play this weekend. They might have surprised us in the first game; I think we beat ourselves Friday night, but we earned our win tonight.”
Next up for Notre Dame (1-1-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) is a home-and-home series with Bowling Green Oct. 17-18. Ohio State (2-2-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) travels to take on Michigan State in East Lansing on the same dates.