From a hockey standpoint, Ohio State vs. Notre Dame is appealing regardless of the circumstances. But when it’s No. 1 Notre Dame hosting No. 6 Ohio State with national and Big Ten implications, the excitement level is elevated.

“They’re No. 1 right now, so I think it’s the team everyone wants to play and everyone wants to beat,” Ohio State defenseman Wyatt Ege said.

That’s especially true for the Buckeyes considering the Fighting Irish swept the teams’ first two meetings this season, in early November in Columbus.

“In games like this it all comes down to little things, and we didn’t do enough of the little things against them the last time,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said of losses by scores of 4-1 and 3-2. “Hopefully we’ve corrected some of that stuff.”

The Buckeyes have squared away a lot of things since then. They were 5-4-2 after that weekend. Now they’re 18-6-4, and in second place in the Big Ten at 11-6-1-0.

But they’re still chasing Notre Dame (21-5-2, 15-2-1-1), which can clinch the league’s regular-season title and a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament with a regulation or overtime win over the Buckeyes on Friday. The teams meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

So both teams are motivated.

“You don’t want anybody to have success against you, I think that’s a big part of it,” Ege said. “But we know we’re going to have to face them in the Big Ten tournament, too, potentially, so this is a big weekend for us to send a message.”

The Buckeyes are coming off a split last weekend against the Big Ten’s last-place team, Michigan State, which probably is a weekend best forgotten. But there was one problem the Buckeyes had against the Spartans that Notre Dame likely noted, OSU forward Ronnie Hein said, one that will be key against the Fighting Irish.

“I think a lot of it is playing behind their defensemen,” said Hein, a sophomore who is rounding back into form after a year removed from hip surgery. “If we make those turnovers like we did last week (against Michigan State) we’re going to struggle all night long.

“We’ve got to get pucks behind them, play down low and behind their defensemen, then definitely always have a guy in front of their goalie to make his job a lot tougher.”

Disruption is vital, Rohlik said, considering the discipline Notre Dame plays with through its lines.

“You look at their numbers and they’re top of the charts,” Rohlik said. “But you’ve got to get a guy in front of their goaltender, you’ve got to work to get into the dirty areas. It comes down to competing.”