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Notre Dame welcomes Penn State to open Big Ten home campaign

| Thursday, November 9, 2017

This weekend, the sixth-ranked Irish will play host to the nineteenth-ranked Nittany Lions of Penn State at Compton Family Ice Arena. Penn State (5-5-0, 2-2-0 Big Ten) are coming off splitting a home series with Mercyhurst and will look to challenge the Irish (6-3-1, 2-0-0), who are coming off of a sweep of Ohio State in their first Big Ten series. Coach Jeff Jackson said he thought that the Irish played their best hockey of the season against the Buckeyes.

“It was probably our best weekend of hockey thus far, we played fairly consistent through the 120 minutes,” Jackson said. “I thought we played a smart game. We did a good job of pressuring the puck and making good puck plays.”

The Ohio State weekend was a strong one for the Irish, but their attention is now squarely on the the Nittany Lions. Penn State is the reigning Big Ten hockey champion and this year has a high-flying offense, averaging 3.80 goals per game, good for seventh in the NCAA. Jackson said he believes that Penn State’s speed and offensive skill makes them a tough opponent.

“They’re as aggressive offensively as any team that we play. They have a philosophy in getting shots to the net,” he said. “They’ll have 50 shots a night more than likely, they do every week. They shoot the puck from every angle and every rush, they’re always in attack mode. It’s really their philosophy that makes them a challenge because they play a high-tempo transition game, they have a good power play, they have several really talented offensive players up front.”

Notre Dame will be forced to slow their offense down, but the Irish appear up to the task. The team is coming off a series where it only allowed three goals to Ohio State, largely off the strong play of sophomore goaltender Cale Morris. Morris turned in 62 saves over the series, including 22 saves in the final period of Saturday’s 3-2 win alone. Junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert spoke highly of Morris’ play in that series.

“He’s very athletic, he competes hard for pucks. He communicates a lot. As a defenseman, when they dump a puck in he’s talking to me a lot,” Gilbert said. “On the penalty kill he talks to the defenseman a lot. In that loud Ohio State building he was vocal and really helping us out.”

With Penn State’s strong offense comes a vulnerable defense. Penn State is giving up 3.90 goals per game, which will have senior forward Jake Evans looking to hang more points on the board. The forward is leading the NCAA in points with 18 points in ten games. His 14 assists also lead the NCAA, and he is coming off of a one-goal, two-assist game last Saturday at Ohio State. Coach Jackson spoke highly of Evans’ playmaking abilities thus far.

“He’s a smart player and he’s a senior. He’s a four-year player with ability, and he’s figured it out. Him and [fellow senior defenseman Jordan] Gross have been through everything,” Jackson said. “He hasn’t even had consistent line mates, so it’s even harder to develop chemistry.”

The Irish will take on the Nittany Lions in Big Ten conference action on Friday at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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