Coming Home to Fairbanks
Friday, May 1, 2009, 10:21 PM
Trips home are rare for Hunter Bishop. Home is Fairbanks, Alaska, a mere 3,800 miles from Columbus. So the sophomore forward for the Ohio State hockey team was understandably excited to make the trek to Alaska last weekend for a two-game series.
But after flight delays and an unexpected stay in Seattle lengthened the trip to more than 36 hours, even his enthusiasm was muted.
"It was one day of travel I'd like to forget it," he said.
The first game against Alaska was also forgetful, a 4-1 loss. The Buckeyes rebounded Saturday by scoring five first-period goals during a 6-2 win.
Fifteenth-ranked Ohio State will need to mimic Saturday's effort in its remaining eight regular-season games to stay near the top of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The schedule is brutal, with two-game series against three teams ranked in the top eight nationally.
It starts tonight and Sunday against No. 2 Notre Dame in Value City Arena. The Buckeyes go to Michigan State next weekend before playing host to No. 4 Michigan and a home-and-home series against No. 8 Miami University.
Each is crucial for Ohio State's postseason hopes. Notre Dame and Miami are ahead of the Buckeyes in the CCHA standings. Ohio State is tied with Michigan for fourth, one point ahead of Nebraska-Omaha. The top four teams receive a bye for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
To get a bye, coach John Markell believes Ohio State must win at least five of the eight games.
"It's going to be darn tough, but we need points out of this weekend, as many as we can," he said. "Everybody is looking for Notre Dame to beat the team they are playing against, so if they get points, they can climb up."
Ohio State earlier benefited from that strategy. It won 14 of 15 games to move up the CCHA standings. But most of those games were against the league's weaker teams. Alaska was the best team it played since late November.
Notre Dame is not like most teams. It is unbeaten in 21 of its past 22 games. It is one of the best defensively, led by goalie Jordan Pearce, who has a 1.59 goals-against average.
"They've got good goaltending. They've got great defense. They stick to their system and play disciplined," Markell said. "It's a pretty toxic mix in the game of hockey and we're going to have to play the proper way to get anything done.
"We have to stay patient. If you play an undisciplined system, you are going to get in big-time trouble. They prey on it."
That is a tough proposition for a young Ohio State team. But the manner in which the Buckeyes responded Saturday gives Markell confidence the team can handle the assignment -- and the big-game atmosphere.
There will be plenty of it in the next four weeks.
"We've got a tough schedule ahead of us," sophomore forward John Albert said. "We just have to focus on what's ahead and hopefully do the best we can."