“It was the best of times…it was the worst of times.”
The weekend in South Bend had an eerily similar tone to the epic first paragraph of Charles Dickins “A Tale Of Two Cities.”
Friday night the fans were alive, the band was playing the atmosphere was electric. The No.1 ranked Irish were celebrating their B1G conference title as they outlasted the Ohio State Buckeye’s 2-1. The Compton Family Ice Arena played host to a first in Notre Dame Irish hockey tile captured on home ice. It truly was the best of times.
Twenty four hours later, the Irish were on the receiving end of a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the No. 6 ranked Buckeyes. The fans were quiet, the band stopped playing and the atmosphere was subdued. Indeed, the worst of times.
What a difference a day can make.
After Friday night’s win at the “Lefty Smith,” Irish Coach Jeff Jackson, “Its an incredible feeling, for me the reward is watching the kids…watching them celebrate. They worked hard tonight. I thought they battled…That was like a playoff game – I mean the intensity. Ohio State played with intensity, we matched that pretty well.”
Saturday night’s post-game press conference had a different tone to it. The ever stoic and graceful Coach Jackson pointed it out early, “We just didn’t have the same edge that we had last night in my estimation. First of all Ohio State is a good hockey team. If you give them opportunities they are going to take advantage.”
It was a reminder to a very good Irish hockey team that complacency at this point in the season is not an option. There were breakdowns in all area’s of the rink for the Irish. Those breakdowns led to odd man advantages and defensive lapses. Jackson “It was uncharacteristic of us. We have been really good at avoiding those types of situations. We also took a couple of unnecessary penalties. Offensive zone penalties… away from the play. We did not have the same focus or mindset.”
Ohio State got an early jump on the Irish in terms of puck possession and tempo. It paid off for the Buckeyes at the 8:49 mark of the first when Matthew Weis scored an even strength goal. Matt Miller and Gordi Meyer drew the assists. That first goal set the tone for the Buckeyes who were 12-0-2 when drawing first blood. That was all the scoring for the first frame. The Buckeyes held a 14-10 advantage in shots.
The second period was a much different story for the Irish in terms of puck possession and pressure. The Irish had an unfortunate turn of events at the 8:55 mark of the period. Ohio State took advantage of a delayed penalty call and with an extra attacker scored to go up 2-0. Matt Joyaux’s shot from the point found the skate of Irish defensemen Dennis Gilbert and redirected past Cale Morris. Brandon Kearney and Luke Stork were credited with the assists.
Cam Morrison cut the lead in half at 17:35 of the second. Morrison’s first goal in 17 contests, brought the Irish crowd to their feet. Bobby Nardella and Jake Evans chipped in with helpers on the play. The two so teams skated to the second intermission with the Buckeyes holding a 2-1 lead. The Irish fired 23 shots at the OSU net.
The third period was all Ohio State. Kevin Miller put the Buckeyes up 3-1 at 6:56 mark. Wyatt Ege and Luke Stork picked up the assist. Less than a minute later Sam McCormick increased the lead to 4-1 with help from John Wiitala and Mason Jobst. That was the end of the night for Morris. Freshman Dylan St. Cyr took over in the Irish net. Kearney rounded out the scoring at 16:21 with an empty net goal.
It was a rough night for Hobey Baker Candidate Cale Morris. The defensive zone breakdowns and odd man situations were a large part of the story. Coach Jackson said after the game ” I didn’t put that on Cale. I have been looking for an opportunity to get Dylan St. Cyr into the net. Morris has been our rock all season long. He is the guy who has made the difference in a lot of games. If you play sloppy like that (tonight) you can’t rely on your goaltender on two on ones and breakaways. You are putting him in high risk situations.”
The Irish were better on face offs last night. They also fired 23 shots at Sean Romeo in the second period. Romeo was the difference, earning the games first star. Coach Jackson put it all in perspective, in discussing how tough the B1G conference is. “Every team we have played no matter who they are, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin, this team tonight…when we are going through the second round – you beat them two games earlier. You beat them on a Friday night of a second time around. It is hard to beat a team four times in a row. It is hard to beat a team twice in a row in College Hockey. We have to recognize that we took 3 of 4 against the No. 6 team in the country. We just have to make sure we are working hard to get better.”
Sage advice. In fact, the Irish are 12-4-2 against ranked teams this year. They are as the old adage say still in the driver’s seat. It will mean working through adversity and finding ways to learn from to learn from tough setbacks.
C.S Lewis once said, “We need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed.” This is where the Irish find themselves with 4 B1G games left to play. A reminder to get back to basics and fundamentals of Irish hockey.