No. 8 Notre Dame set to take on Michigan State in road series
Tobias Hoonhout | Thursday, November 15, 2018
After splitting their second-straight conference series last weekend against No. 16 Michigan, No. 8 Notre Dame heads back north this coming Friday and Saturday to take on Big Ten rival and Irish head coach Jeff Jackson’s alma mater, Michigan State.
Last weekend, the Irish (5-4-1, 2-2 Big Ten) split their first conference road series of the season against the Wolverines (5-4, 1-1), the program Notre Dame defeated to reach last year’s national title game. On Friday night, the Irish dropped the opener 2-1 against a pesky home team that scored on its first two power plays while keeping Notre Dame scoreless in five chances. On Saturday however, Notre Dame rebounded with an offensive explosion, answering Michigan’s opener before slotting four past Wolverine goalie Hayden Lavigne in the second period.
For Jackson, Notre Dame’s struggles to sweep stem largely from a lack of consistency.
“Right now, the biggest thing for us is consistency … execute a little bit better on Friday nights, and doing it for 60 minutes,” he said Wednesday. “The same thing would apply to Saturday, because early on Saturday I thought we were on our heels a bit at the start of the game. They scored the first goal again, and they actually scored the second goal, which we challenged and was disallowed, and that changed the whole momentum of the game. When that goal was disallowed, I thought we started playing — and I thought we started playing real well — for the last part of the first period, and then the second period we dominated.”
Jackson also attributed some of the lack of a groove to a team that is still trying to find its feet, especially after the offseason losses of key contributors on both the front and back ends, but particularly offensively.
“It seems like our Saturday nights are better because we lose Friday night. We have to find a way to overcome that,” he said. “I think we’re ready to play, I think we’re working hard, I just don’t think we’re executing the way we need to up front. We changed the routine up a little bit this week, as far as going over things differently. Later in the week, tactical things just so they have a better understanding of what we need to do on Friday night. Because it’s a younger group, they’re a bit too far removed from where we need them on certain things, so we changed up the routine this week so that we’re doing things a little later in the week, just to see if they grasp it sooner, so Friday night we’re a little bit more in-tune.”
One change for the Irish that did occur in the matchup with the Wolverines was a shift in starting goalies from Friday to Saturday. While junior and resident Richter award-winner Cale Morris got the nod to open the series, Jackson opted to start sophomore Dylan St. Cyr, who stood firm between the pipes to hand the Irish the win.
While Jackson dismissed any idea that Morris was set to lose his starting job, he did point to more rotation in the future.
“[Cale is] our guy, but Dylan is a good goaltender, and I do want to get him spot starts in there, get some confidence and challenge Cale. But I also want to make sure Cale’s fresh for the second half of this year,” Jackson said. “So it’s not just the early part of the season, I’m looking to possibly put in Dylan, spot-starting, and him, not too far apart, but enough so that Cale still gets the majority of the games. But Dylan’s played well in the two games that he’s played, and his puck handling really made a big difference on Saturday.”
Looking ahead to the Spartans (4-4), who will be opening conference play against the Irish, Jackson said head coach Danton Cole has done a good job in keeping his program on the upward ascent, particularly with a front line of junior Taro Hirose, sophomore Mitchell Lewandowski and junior Patrick Khodorenko, who have combined for 30 of the team’s 67 points.
“They didn’t lose much, so they’re pretty much the same team that they had a year ago, which means they’re more experienced,” Jackson said. “They have maybe one of the best, if not the best line in college hockey in their first line. This year, I think they are getting more depth scoring from their second and third lines. They’re very staunch defensively, they do a lot of good things — they are a very well-coached team, and I think that they are a much improved team from last year.”
Ultimately, for Jackson, the key for Notre Dame to earn its first conference sweep of the season will be to control the game on special teams.
“I think the biggest thing right now, is that our special teams aren’t where they need to be,” he said. “If we get the first power play, we don’t score. If we get the first penalty kill, we get scored on. Frankly, we’ve been putting more attention in our five-on-five offense as far as trying to do more off the rush, and off the cycle as well, but really, we need to score a power play goal a game, and our penalty kill has been inconsistent as well. In the first period, you need that big penalty kill or you need that power play goal that gets you jumpstarted. It’s a huge factor, and I think that right now that’s one of our biggest concerns.”
Puck first drops for the Irish on Friday night at 7 p.m. in East Lansing, Michigan.