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Hockey

Despite comeback, No. 8 Irish can’t overcome early deficit against Omaha

| Friday, October 27, 2017

On Thursday night, the No. 8 Irish opened up their series against Nebraska–Omaha in Compton Ice Arena, and ultimately fell 6-4 after going down 5-1 to start the game.

It was the first time since 2012 that the Irish (3-3-1) had played Omaha (3-1-1), as the two programs are former conference foes in the CCHA. 

Irish senior defenseman Jordan Gross skates during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Omaha on Thursday at Compton Family Ice Arena.Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer

Irish senior defenseman Jordan Gross skates during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Omaha on Thursday at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Mavericks got off to a hot start in the first period and opened up the scoring 15 seconds in on their first shift, as Mavericks senior forward David Pope had a shot in that went in off a defenseman’s shin pad in front. That goal set the tone for rest of the period, as the Irish played most of the opening frame in their own end. Just over five minutes in, Mavericks senior forward Jake Randolph beat Irish freshman goaltender Dylan St. Cyr between his arm and his chest protector on a puck that snuck into the back of the net to take a 2-0 lead on just the second Omaha shot of the game.

The two early goals put the Irish on their heels, and the Mavericks ran their shot advantage up to 15-10 by the end of the first frame. The Irish went into the locker room licking their wounds down 2-0. Irish head coach Jeff Jackson felt the team made costly lapses in the first period.

“We shot ourselves in the foot early in the game. Primarily, it was our defensemen not reading situations real well, and making bad decisions off the rush,” Jackson explained. “Somewhat uncharacteristic, but that’s where it started. Getting scored on on the first shift that bounces off a shin pad and off the ice certainly set the tone for how the game went for us.”

The Irish came out fast in the first shift of the second period, but their momentum was crushed by another Omaha goal, this one coming by way of a garbage goal scored in a scrum in the crease by Maverick sophomore forward Steven Spinner just fifty-four seconds into the frame.  Just three minutes later, the Irish would finally get on the board. Junior defenseman Bobby Nardella collected the puck off a pass from senior Jake Evans and fired a wrist shot over the glove of Omaha’s junior goalie Evan Weninger to cut the Mavericks’ lead to 3-1. 

The Irish were awarded two power plays in the second period but neither were able to generate quality chances. The best chance was a one timer teed up by freshman forward Colin Theisen that looked like it had an open net waiting for it, but an unlucky broken stick spoiled that chance.

The Irish played the rest of the period even with the Mavericks until a youthful mistake gifted Omaha a goal. St. Cyr had to handle a dump in late in the second period, but mishandled the puck, and the turnover gave Pope a prime look that he buried for his second goal of the game at the 16:39 mark of the second period. One minute and sixteen seconds later, the Mavericks added another goal on a defensive lapse that caused a two-on-one and a subsequent finish from sophomore forward Zach Jordan. These would be the last shots St. Cyr would face on the night. He finished with 25 saves and 5 goals allowed and was lifted in favor of sophomore goalie Cale Morris during the second intermission. Despite the pull, Coach Jackson had positive things to say about the young goaltender.

“The first goal established things for him tonight. That’s two starts in a row where he hasn’t been quite as sharp, but that comes with being a freshman. That’s not uncommon for a freshman to learn the speed of the game,” Jackson said. “Some of the goals were a direct result beating ourselves in the first two periods with some of the plays we were making.”

Down 5-1 late in the second, the Irish began to mount a comeback. Sophomore Cal Burke and sophomore Andrew Peeke scored back to back goals late to cut the Mavericks lead in half, 5-3. The Irish were still down two goals, but carried more momentum in the locker room after the second period than they did after the first. Coach Jackson believed the team did a lot of things right late in the game, but were ultimately hurt by their slow start.

“We did some good things, we just didn’t do them soon enough. We didn’t play with urgency in the early stage of the game which we need to resolve,” Jackson said. Especially at home, we want to be pushing the pace. They have a lot of talented forwards, if you don’t pay attention to the details of your game, you’re going to give up goals.”

The Irish entered the third period on the power play and converted on a long range wrist shot from senior defenseman Jordan Gross. The shot came through traffic and was never seen by Weninger who had no chance to stop it, suddenly making what had been a blowout a one-goal game.

The Irish dominated play in the third period, outshooting the Mavericks 14-6. The Mavericks gave the Irish a gift at the 16:47 mark of the third, with Steven Spinner taking a neutral zone interference penalty to give the Irish a man advantage. But despite coming into the week tied with the second-highest power play conversion rate in the country, Notre Dame failed to get pucks to the front of the net and squandered the opportunity. The Irish pulled Morris, who finished with 5 saves, late for an extra attacker, but Notre Dame couldn’t deliver, and Spinner scored his second goal of the game on a long range empty net goal to make it 6-4 as time drained off the clock.

After the loss, Jackson believes the team has areas to improve for the future. 

“They’re going to make plays, they’re a good team offensively, and you have to minimize what they do. You can’t give them odd man rushes and expect to not get scored on. We gave them several odd man rushes, and that’s a direct result of some bad puck plays but some bad decisions by defensemen that gave up 2 on 1s.”

The Irish will look to improve in these areas tomorrow night in a rematch with Nebraska Omaha at 7:35 p.m. at Compton Ice Arena. 

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