The Buckeyes were short a defenseman and had to shake up the lines against the CCHA leaders, but it didn't matter. OSU played what is becoming its usual tough defensive game, got another standout performance from goalie Cal Heeter and took advantage of some odd bounces to pull away from the Fighting Irish in front of 4,738.
"When we're at our best is when we keep things simple and get great goaltending from Cal," senior co-captain Sergio Somma said. "Those are consistencies that come with success. As long as we keep doing that and keep working hard … I think that's when we're good."
OSU (13-9-2) improved to 5-2 against the top four teams in the CCHA on the year while jumping into a fifth-place tie in the league with an 8-7-2-2 record.
However, head coach Mark Osiecki wasn't doing backflips afterward given how touch-and-go the first 40 minutes were for the Buckeyes.
"From the standpoint of how we played, the score is not real indicative of how that game was at all, and we'll make our players very aware of that tomorrow," he said. "We're just taking steps. Let's be honest here, this wasn't a perfect game for us. We're just trying to get the guys better from day one or from today to tomorrow, tomorrow to Monday."
There was plenty of scoring to go around for the Buckeyes, as senior co-captain Peter Boyd led the way with a goal and two assists while Cory Schneider had three helpers. Freshman Travis Statchuk also had his first career goal, sophomore Paul Kirtland posted just the third of his career and sophomore Jeff McNeil got his first career assist.
The game didn't have the feel of a blowout as the teams skated through the first period tied at 1 apiece, but a 12-second span of the second changed the whole dynamic. Midway through the second, Danny Dries – the team's second-leading goal-scorer who was forced to play defense out of necessity – scored on a rebound at 11:24.
Only 13 seconds later, a bad bounce off the boards after McNeil dumped in the puck resulted in Boyd having an easy tap-in with goaltender Mike Johnson out of the net.
"Our team right now is fragile," Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. "I think we deflated a little bit after the goal that went off the stanchion. We didn't respond well to it. Maybe I should have called a timeout actually, so I'll take responsibility for it."
Notre Dame did press early in the third, but things got away from the Fighting Irish when OSU netted a power-play goal at 5:21 of the third, as Statchuk tapped in another easy one after a bounce off the boards eluded Johnson.
From there, the game resembled OSU's 8-2 win in the first round of the CCHA playoffs that ended Notre Dame's season a year ago. The Fighting Irish replaced Johnson with freshman Steven Summerhays, but C.J. Severyn scored on the Buckeyes' next shot and John Albert added a final tally with 7:26 left.
"Hockey is a funny game," Somma said. "We just happened to get some good bounces. We played decent but we didn't play good enough to win 6-1."
As most alluded to, the game was nip and tuck through the early going. Notre Dame brought the league's best scoring offense at 3.77 tallies per game in to Columbus and certainly looked the part – even with senior alternate captain Calle Ridderwall out – but the Buckeyes didn't give up any easy opportunities and Heeter was expert in his positioning to stop some early chances.
"He's aggressive," Osiecki said. "He's confident right now. I think that he's not giving up a heck of a lot of rebounds, and when he does our defensemen are there or blocking some shots to help him out. That's the key to our team right now. We have to block a ton of shots and have a bend but don't break mentality in the defensive zone and protect the area around Cal."
Ohio State's ability to do that opened up the offensive end. The Buckeyes got on the board 4:50 into the game, as Schneider received a chipped pass off the boards in full flight before backhanding a shot on Johnson. The ND netminder made the save but Kirtland followed up the play and shoveled the puck into the net with Johnson knocked out of position.
If there was one area that steamed Osiecki, it was OSU taking four penalties in the opening 22 minutes of the game, including two taken at the same time by McNeil and Corey Toy at 17:34 of the first. Notre Dame took advantage as leading scorer T.J. Tynan had a centering pass deflected into the net off the skate of OSU defenseman Sean Duddy at 18:11.
Another hustle play by Schneider turned the tide, though, as he forced a turnover that led to the winning goal, poke-checking the puck forward for Somma to earn a half breakaway. Johnson stopped two of his shots on the right, but Dries raced forward and buried the second rebound before being upended into the net.
The performance allowed Schneider to earn the team's game puck as its MVP. He also blocked two shots and was plus-3.
"I thought it started with him blocking some shots," Osiecki said. "He won some battles on the wall, took a big hit to make a play. That's what we're stressing as a team. He led by example on that and gets rewarded with three assists and ultimately our game puck."
From there, OSU pulled away through bounces, but Jackson was magnanimous in defeat.
"They created some breaks," he said. "I'm a big believer that those bounces are a direct result of creating them."