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Mulvena: Jeff Jackson knows what he’s doing with the goaltenders

| Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Fluctuation at any position can be unsettling at the least and infuriating at its worst for any avid fan of a particular team. The beginnings of Notre Dame’s football season this year was underlined by such a discussion as uncertainty arose at the quarterback position, and a wide spectrum of opinions made themselves evident even before the season began. For the Notre Dame hockey team, the discussion this season concerning who the goaltender will be is certainly not at that same level, but the rotation between junior goaltender and reigning Mike Richter Award winner Cale Morris and sophomore goaltender Dylan St. Cyr can understandably bring on similar feelings in the average fan.

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

Backup Dylan St. Cyr has gotten a number of reps this season, far more than he had at this time last year, including a full 60 minutes in goal against RPI last Saturday and on Oct. 19 against Omaha, along with 59:57 in goal against Michigan on Nov. 11. At first glance, one could easily question the decision to give St. Cyr as many reps as he has gotten this year. Morris was undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in college hockey last year, as the Mike Richter Award proves, and his superb play in net was, let’s be honest, probably the main reason Notre Dame got a chance to play for a national title in the first place. Morris played in 37 games and gave up 77 goals, averaging 1.94 goals allowed per game, went 27-8-1 in net and recorded an mind boggling .944 save percentage, tied for the best save percentage in college hockey. Who would think of giving St. Cyr a shot considering Morris’ resume in 2017-2018?

I would, in most situations, side with the fan frustrated by the fluctuation at a certain position, especially a position like the goaltender — the last line of defense, a position that can take you to a national championship or end your season far earlier than expected. But here, I side with Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, who has consistently emphasized that he wants to continue to get St. Cyr reps throughout the season, no matter how stellar Morris’ play may be.

For one, Jackson is one of the all time great college hockey coaches, recording over 300 wins in his time at Notre Dame alone, so I think it’s reasonable to trust his scheme for the season. However, I understand that reputation alone is not enough for those who may be unsettled by the rotations, especially since St. Cyr’s minutes have increased as of late, playing almost three periods in two of the last six games for the Irish.

Really, I think this goaltending situation is quite different than, for example, the decision between junior quarterback Ian Book and senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush on the gridiron. It’s a unique scenario, in that Morris has beyond all doubt proved himself the starter with last season’s resume alone. No matter how well St. Cyr might play throughout this season, I would have a hard time believing he will ever be the go-to guy in a tough situation over Morris, who has been to a Frozen Four, played in a national championship and won a Big Ten Conference title as the starter. And for Morris, that ability, that consistency, doesn’t just go away. The reigning Mike Richter award winner who made a national championship run doesn’t just have a few rough games and fade into oblivion. Whether the stats show it or not, Morris is still among the best in college hockey, and few would have a hard time accepting that idea.

So, certainly there is no harm in getting St. Cyr full game appearances in the middle of the season. The only harm could be a loss, and college hockey is a long, trying season, so there can be no way of affirming that a worn out Morris would give the Irish a better shot at victory than a fresh St. Cyr, especially since the sophomore has done a fantastic job in his three full length appearances this season, recording a 3-0 record with three goals allowed and a total save percentage of .965. It isn’t as if Morris won’t be fresh after St. Cyr takes a few games, it isn’t as if the level of skill between Morris and St. Cyr would make the different between an NCAA tournament appearance and an early end to the season, and it certainly isn’t as if a rotation would disrupt the team’s flow or momentum.

That’s just not how the goaltender operates in hockey — it’s not the quarterback position or the point guard position. All in all, I say giving Morris a better chance to stay healthy in the long run while offering a solid sophomore who could come in clutch later on some real reps simply cannot be a negative for the Irish.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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