No. 6 Irish sweep Penn State to remain perfect in Big Ten
No. 6 Notre Dame swept its two-game weekend series against No. 19 Penn State in the team’s conference home opener at Compton Family Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions (5-7-0, 2-4-0-0) got on the board first during Friday night’s game, scoring 4:39 into the first period to give themselves a 1-0 lead. Notre Dame (8-3-1, 4-0-0-0) would respond seven minutes later when senior forward Bo Brauer fired a shot from the point into the back of the net to tie the score 1-1 with 8:05 left in the first period. Penn State would take the lead back however, scoring with just 28 seconds left in the opening period to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said Penn State’s aggressive style of play made it hard for his team to get going early in the game.
“They play such a high tempo and they counter press really hard, you can try to prepare for it as much as you want but until your guys actually face it, it takes some time to adjust on how they play,” Jackson said. “And kudos to them. They play an aggressive style, very tenacious, they have a lot of players that are very similar to each other and they caught us with a lot of things that we had talked about during the week. Like I said, sometimes you have to acclimate to your opponent and I think by the third period we did.”
Nearly halfway through the second period, junior defenseman Bobby Nardella was skating near the Notre Dame bench when he fired a shot on goal from above the blue line. The shot trickled past Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones and into the net to tie the score at 2-2. Penn State appeared to score and re-take the lead again shortly after Nardella’s improbable goal, but the goal was disallowed after review for accidental contact with the goaltender.
With 5:40 left in the second period, junior forward Andrew Oglevie gave the Irish their first lead of the game when his point shot found the back of the net to make it 3-2 Notre Dame. The lead was short lived, however, as the Nittany Lions responded just a minute later with a goal of their own to tie the score 3-3.
After back and forth play to start the third period, senior forward Dawson Cook deflected a setup pass from freshman defenseman Matt Hellickson into the back of the net to give Notre Dame a 4-3 lead with 8:19 left in the game. After Penn State mounted a late comeback attempt, junior forward Jack Jenkins shot the puck into an empty net with 19 seconds left in the game to seal the victory for the Irish.
Notre Dame recorded 19 shots during the game while Penn State recorded 43. Notre Dame sophomore goaltender Cale Morris recorded 40 saves to pick up his sixth win of the year.
Jackson also complimented his team’s ability to handle adversity.
“The game goes in swings of momentum and you have to be able to handle them evenly,” Jackson said. “The most important thing to me was that we won the third period tonight because it’s been a real strong suit for us this year and great teams always play their best hockey in the third period, especially when you’re tied or have a goal lead or if you’re down a goal and have the ability to come back. So to me that was the most important thing and I thought we did a good job defensively and did a better job managing the puck.”
On Saturday, the superb goaltending of sophomore Cale Morris, along with the strength of the Irish’s defensive unit, lifted the squad to a 1-0 win over the Nittany Lions.
The game started slowly on the offensive end for both teams. Despite two power play opportunities in the first half of the second period, the Irish were unable to put something on the board. Nevertheless, with 5:48 left in the period, senior forward Bo Brauer came through, slotting one top shelf from the slot thanks to an assist from sophomore forward Mike O’Leary and junior defensemen Dennis Gilbert. The goal was Brauer’s second of the season.
In the third period, having tallied one goal thus far, the Irish looked to contain the aggressive transition attack of Penn State. The defensive unit, led still by the superb goaltending of Morris, was impregnable in the final twenty minutes of the matchup.
Halfway through the period, sophomore defensemen Andrew Peeke laid out to prevent a pass to the slot for Penn State, which would have proven a crucial scoring opportunity. The penalty kill unit managed to kill two Penn State power plays in the period, one of those coming in the last half of the period. Cale Morris recorded nine saves in the period, leaving him with a total of 33 saves in the matchup.
“[Morris] was very focused,” Jackson said. “I could tell in training camp that he had a very good coach. You know, he payed his dues last year. It’s not easy to do what he did last year behind a great goaltender like Cal Peterson. I think he probably learned from Cal in a lot of areas. But, he’s gotten off to a good start”
“…the thing I admire most about what he’s done here in the last four games is that he’s shown the ability to close the game down, and that is a really important quality in a goaltender. I think the key thing with him has been his rebound control. That’s an important asset to make sure you’re not getting second shot opportunities up too often.”
Another star for the Irish this weekend was senior forward Bo Brauer, who recorded his first two goals of the season over the weekend and proved himself an offensive force in the series.
“Well, Bo is another guy that’s paid his dues, you know. He’s really made an effort to learn the game without the puck, because he had a problem with that early in his career. Even at times now, he puck stares a little bit too much. But, he’s gotten better, and he’s always had the ability to be a power-type forward.” Jackson said. “He just has to remember to play big, and when he does, he makes our cycle and our low game offensively really effective.”
All in all, a huge part of the Irish’s defensive proficiency over the weekend was the penalty kill unit, who managed to squash four two power plays on Friday and four on Saturday.
“We’ve got a good rhythm going with guys right now — I like the groups of forwards that we’re using,” Jackson said. “You know, some guys don’t get as much credit as they probably should, like Jack Jenkins and Cal Burke — they both do a great job along with Evans. Oglevie is back now, which helps the penalty kill, and both Michael O’Leary and Dawson Cook are becoming valuable assets on the penalty kill.”
The sweep comes at a crucial time for the Irish in the scope of their season, as conference play will continue to ramp up in the weeks ahead. Penn State is No. 19 in the country, and its high tempo style is no easy feat for any team to overcome.
“The guys have done such a great job there. They play such a high tempo game, and I like the way they play,” Jackson said. “They put a lot of pressure on you, and they’re shooting from everywhere, and when you take shots generally that creates a lot of chaos. And the other thing they do is, they transition really well out of their own end. It’s really hard to establish much of a forecheck against them, just by the way they play, because your defensemen almost have to honor the guys leaving the zone — when they get possession they’re gone, and if you don’t honor them, then you’re going to give up breakaways.”
The Irish will go on to face the Engineers of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute next weekend at the Houston Field House in Troy, New York.