Notre Dame preps for regular season finale against Michigan State
Michael Ivey | Thursday, February 22, 2018
No. 5 Notre Dame will take on Michigan State in their final regular season series this Friday and Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Notre Dame (22-8-2, 16-5-1) fell four spots in the rankings after being swept in their two-game series against Michigan last weekend. The Irish lost 4-2 on Friday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena and dropped a close 1-0 match to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Sunday.
Junior forward Joe Wegwerth and junior defenseman Bobby Nardella each scored goals during Notre Dame’s loss on Friday. Sophomore goaltender Cale Morris made 32 saves on 36 shots on Friday and 36 saves on 37 shots on Sunday.
Notre Dame has already wrapped up the Big Ten regular season title. After this weekend, the Irish will have a bye to the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament, which they will host on March 10.
Michigan State (11-19-2, 5-15-2) is in last place in the conference standings.
These two teams faced each other earlier in the season when Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing for a weekend series against Michigan State on Dec. 1-2. The Irish won the games by 3-1 and 2-0 scores, respectively.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said his team has been trying to solve the scoring issues that have been plaguing the team the past three games.
“[We’re] just trying to get more traffic to the net and trying to work on more scoring stuff because that has been our biggest weakness over the last three games,” Jackson said. “We haven’t scored a five-on-five goal.”
Jackson said part of that problem has been his team’s willingness to pass the puck instead of shooting it.
“We’re trying to get all of our guys to shoot the puck more frankly because we have a tendency to pass the puck,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of shots blocked too, so that is something we have to find a solution to. There is only so much you can do when you have teams with three of four guys in shot lanes, so you have to be a little more patient, you have to use more fakes and false information a little bit to dish pucks off to the sides of the net at times, so it makes it difficult and everybody has elevated their game in the second half which makes it even that much more challenging.
“Michigan is a much better team than they were the first time we saw them, especially in goal, but they’re better defensively. It’s been like that the whole second half. We’re running into teams that first of all see us with a target on our backs, and secondly they’re all playing for playoff positioning, so it’s made it more challenging for us. Hopefully it makes us better for the playoffs.”
Senior captain Jake Evans said the team has been working on scoring drills during practice this week.
“We’re definitely working on that, focusing on winning battles in front of the net, focusing on just creating more chances and being a little smarter with the puck sometimes because I think the past two weekends we’ve been struggling to score,” he said. “We’ve just been throwing pucks away and not focusing on making the smart play. Just getting back to that and things are looking good this week and guys are really focusing on that, so it’s looking good.”
Despite Michigan State’s record, Jackson said he believes this series will be a tough one and said his team has to play with a little desperation.
“We have to go into this series with the same mindset,” he said. “We have to be prepared to play a team that right now they’re playing desperate for a different reason. They’re developing their culture there with the new coach and, frankly, they’re also playing much better than the first time we saw them too. They knocked off Ohio State two weeks ago at Ohio State, they beat Penn State this past weekend and they gave Michigan two tough games, one of which they tied and lost the shootout.
“They’re playing better hockey. For a coach, it takes time to instill your system and get your culture together. My very first year here, we were a much better team during the second half of that year playing with pride and confidence at the end of that year, and that’s basically what I see with them. They also have a heck of a first line, and that makes it that much more challenging.”
Jackson said the biggest difference he has seen over the course of the second half of the season is an improvement in the opponents’ goaltending.
“It started right away with Wisconsin, we lost that second game in Chicago when [Jack] Berry stood on his head. Then we played Minnesota and that young guy they brought in, [Mat] Robson, he’s made a big difference on their team,” Jackson said. “I think the same thing applies with Michigan and Lavigne and Ohio State as well. I think the goaltending in the second half has been much better in our conference and that’s where in the first half we might’ve had an advantage, and that is part of why we are having a more challenging time of scoring goals.”