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Hockey

Irish overcome inefficiencies to sweep Spartans

| Monday, November 19, 2018

A dominant defensive performance gave the Irish a series sweep over Michigan State  in a conference matchup this weekend.

The Irish (7-4-1, 4-2-0 Big Ten) took their No. 8 ranking on the road to take on the Spartans (4-6-0 0-2-0 Big Ten), with goalkeeper Cale Morris leading the Irish to two victories in East Lansing. The Spartans were held to only one goal in each contest against the Irish, despite outshooting the Irish in both games.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Irish junior goaltender Cale Morris guards the net during Notre Dame’s 1-0 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 2 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

“It starts with Cale Morris,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said when asked about his team’s defensive performance. “He played really well for us, especially in the first periods of both games when Michigan State came out with some extra juice playing at home.”

Morris, a junior from Larkspur, Colo., made 27 saves on Friday and another 28 on Saturday.

“Cale’s strength is he’s calm. His demeanor is really great for a goaltender,” Jackson said.

In game one on Friday night, Notre Dame jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from senior forward Joe Wegwerth and freshman forward Cam Burke. The Spartans cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period, but the Irish tacked on an insurance goal in the third to secure the victory.

On Saturday night, Michigan State took hold of the early momentum, securing a 1-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Irish battled back to post two goals of their own in the period and leave East Lansing with a 2-1 victory.

Notre Dame successfully killed six Michigan State power plays over the weekend, holding the Spartans scoreless in such opportunities.

“I give a lot of credit to our penalty kill core as well as Cale [Morris],” Jackson said. “Winning on the road is not easy, especially in the Big Ten, but our team is resilient. We went down 1-0 (Saturday) and came back to win.”

The Irish escaped the weekend series with two wins, but the victories did not come without struggles. Not only did the Spartans outshoot the Irish in both games, but they also dominated Notre Dame on faceoffs. Overall, the Irish struggled to control possession, putting more pressure on their goalkeeper.

“We had a bad weekend,” Jackson said of his team’s performance on faceoffs. The Irish lost 33 of 55 faceoffs on Friday and 37 of 64 faceoffs on Saturday.

“For the most part we’ve had good success. Jack Jenkins has done a good job on the draws,” Jackson said. “We need more consistency.”

While Notre Dame excelled in shutting down the Michigan State power play, the Irish struggled to find a rhythm in their own extra-man opportunities.

“It was actually a relief to score a goal on the power play [on Sunday],” Jackson said. “We have the talent to have a great power play, but we don’t have the chemistry yet to have a good power play.”

Notre Dame converted one of five power play opportunities over the weekend, and Jenkins said his squad will have to improve that area of its game in order to succeed this year.

“Our special teams have been crucial to us in the past, and we’re going to need them to play better in order to have a good season,” he said.

Despite inefficiencies on draws and power plays, the Irish returned home with two wins over a conference foe. Jackson expects his group to learn from these early season struggles as the season continues.

“I think we’re making strides,” Jackson said. “But we’re not going to really see our strongest team until the second half.”

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