Hockey: Battle of hot-shot scorers in weekend series
By: JUSTIN SCHUVER
Two of the CCHA's leading goal scorers will clash this weekend as Notre Dame tries to get back on the winning track against Ohio State in a two game home series.
The Buckeyes (17-6-2, 11-4-1 in the CCHA) are led by junior center R.J. Umberger, who is tied with Irish right wing Rob Globke for second with 18 goals in the CCHA goal-scoring race.
Scoring goals has been Notre Dame's Achilles' heel during its current seven game winless streak. Even after a 3-3 tie with Michigan State last Saturday, the Irish have averaged fewer than two goals per game in their last four contests.
That's not good news for a team preparing to face the Buckeyes, who have given up a little more than two goals a game on average for the entire season.
Junior goaltender Mike Betz has been outstanding in goal for the Buckeyes, leading the CCHA with a 1.90 goals-against average in 12 conference games, while being helped by a defense that only allows 24.1 shots per game.
"Once again, as is the case with so many good teams, [Ohio State's] strength is their defense," Irish coach Dave Poulin said. "They have a lot of high-profile forwards, but they don't give up many goals."
The Buckeyes are especially deep at the center position. Umberger, who leads the team in scoring, was a first round selection of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 NHL entry draft. In that same draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected junior center Dave Steckel.
In addition, freshman center Ryan Kesler is predicted by many publications to be a high draft pick this year.
"That's amazing," Poulin said. "There are NHL teams that don't have three first-round draft picks at center."
The Irish (9-12-5, 7-9-2 CCHA) have been snakebit by the Buckeyes in their last 10 meetings, with Ohio State holding a 7-1-2 series lead in that span. Last year, Notre Dame played the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio and came away with a 4-4 tie and 3-2 loss.
"If you look at the individual games [in that 10 game span], all of them have been close," Poulin said. "We haven't been able to take advantage of our opportunities, against OSU more so than perhaps any other team."
Despite the discrepancy between the teams' overall records, the Irish have played better in recent games.
Ohio State had its 10-game unbeaten streak snapped last weekend as the Buckeyes dropped 4-0 and 3-1 decisions to Nebraska-Omaha in Omaha, Neb. Coming into this weekend, Ohio State has lost four straight conference games on the road.
The Irish managed to pick up a point in last weekend's games against Michigan State, losing to the Spartans 3-1 on Friday and tying 3-3 on Saturday.
Notre Dame played well in both games, but was stymied by the goaltending of Matt Migliaccio, who made a combined 80 saves in the two contests and was especially large on Friday, making 40 saves off 41 shots.
"We played very well last weekend," Poulin said. "But we have to win. It's not enough to just play well."
With a good performance against the Buckeyes, the Irish will be able to climb from their ninth-place standing in the CCHA and make a run toward gaining home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, which is given to the top six conference finishers.
"Home ice is very advantageous," Poulin said. "The thing about this league is that one weekend [can get you home ice]."
The Irish hope that weekend is this weekend.
All Sports Stories for Friday, January 31, 2003