Saturday afternoon, the Fighting Irish proved why, and in the process ended the season for the Ohio State men's hockey team.
College coaches often talk about seeing their team play until they meet a better foe, and that's what happened when Ohio State and Notre Dame met in Joe Louis Arena. The Fighting Irish – who finished second in the CCHA regular-season standings – outclassed the Buckeyes, outshooting OSU by a 44-17 total on the way to a 3-2 win in a CCHA semifinal.
Ohio State finished the season at 16-17-7 overall, but the return to Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 2005 and fourth-place CCHA finish in the league's last season put the Buckeye program back on the college hockey map as it goes to the Big Ten next season.
"For us as a program, we couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished this year," said third-year head coach Mark Osiecki, who skippered OSU to its first top-four CCHA finish in eight seasons. "We faced a lot of difficult situations. I know everyone has to go through them, but this was a very young team.
"You saw tonight, we had one senior and then a transfer senior in the lineup, so like I said, we couldn't be more proud of what the guys accomplished this year."
The only seniors dressed were goaltender Brady Hjelle and defenseman Devon Krogh, while the roster also boasted senior goalie Jeff Michael, defenseman Brandon Martell and forward Alex Carlson.
It was a heck of a way to go out for Hjelle, who was the reason the Buckeyes were in the game at the end. The senior goaltender made 41 saves – topping 40 for the second consecutive game and third time this season – as Notre Dame's potent offense pelted the Buckeye cage.
"Obviously he meant a ton (to our team)," Osiecki said. "In our eyes, he's our MVP, and he's the MVP of our league. If you take him off our team, obviously we play differently. You saw that tonight. He gave us a great opportunity to be in a game, maybe a game that we didn't deserve to be in."
Sophomore co-captain Ryan Dzingel had the tally for the Buckeyes, his team-leading 16th of the season.
On the other side, Notre Dame (24-12-3) advanced to the CCHA final, to be held tomorrow afternoon at The Joe. Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick T.J. Tynan scored the winning goal in the third period, while the Fighting Irish also got tallies from Peter Schneider and Jeff Costello.
"I was obviously very pleased with our effort tonight," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "I thought we played a good 60-minute hockey game."
Dzingel got the scoring going, putting the Buckeyes' first shot on goal into the net at 9:56 of the first. It was a quick transition move, with Anthony Greco and Dzingel passing back and forth up the right wing on a 3-on-2 before the Buckeye sophomore crossed up goaltender Steven Summerhays with a shot to the right post from in front.
But Notre Dame tied the score just 56 seconds later after an ill-advised pinch in the zone by freshman defenseman Sam Jardine. It led to a 3-on-1 for the Fighting Irish, with Peter Schneider taking the puck the entire way and scoring from low on the left with a shot by Hjelle's glove.
"Obviously Peter's goal after OSU scored was huge for us to get our confidence back," Jackson said. "Sometimes responding when you have that first goal against is one of the most important things."
Ohio State had a great chance to take the lead just minutes into the second period as a nifty pass sprung Alex Lippincott in alone, but his backhander from in front hit Summerhays and then the far post before trickling back across the goal line. The ND netminder didn't know where it was but swept his left leg across the line, sending the puck away from the crease and out of harm's way.
From there, Notre Dame started to squeeze the vise, especially as Ohio State lost Greco, junior Chris Crane and sophomore Nick Oddo from the forward ranks at various times throughout the game because of injury.
The Irish ended up with 17 shots in the second period, including one by Bryan Rust that pinged the post, while OSU had seven on the way to its second lowest total of the season.
"Coach has been stressing shooting the puck all year, and I don't think (we had trouble tonight), it was just our mind-set," Dzingel said. We could have thrown more pucks on net, but that's how the game turned out."
Ohio State got out of the second period unscathed on the scoreboard, but Tynan got the winning goal just 3:50 into the second on the power play. It was ND's third consecutive man advantage, and Tynan scored late in the PP when he created some space and beat Hjelle short side from the top of the left circle.
The OSU netminder couldn't get over in time, immediately looking skyward in exasperation when the puck hit the twine.
"He just shot it through the screen and I didn't see it until it went in," Hjelle said.
Notre Dame kept the Buckeyes at bay the rest of the way, allowing only five shots in the third, before Costello's empty-net score with 1:05 left on the clock.
Dzingel ended up leading the Buckeyes in goals and points (38) on the season while Tanner Fritz – who picked up the second assist on the OSU marker – had a team-best 26 helpers. … Max McCormick, who had 15 goals and 31 points on the season, saw his nine-game point streak end. … The Buckeyes were 0 for 2 on the power play, snapping a six-game streak of man-advantage goals. … Hjelle was named the CCHA's top goaltender at the league's awards show Friday night, but he lost out on league player of the year honors to Miami's Austin Czarnik. RedHawks head coach Enrico Blasi bested Osiecki for coach of the year. … OSU fell to 11-13 all-time at The Joe and 3-8 in CCHA semifinal games.