ND win streak hits six with home sweep of RPI
Tobias Hoonhout | Monday, December 3, 2018
Coming off of a conference road sweep over Michigan State and an overtime home win Tuesday against Northern Michigan, No. 8 Notre Dame kept its win streak going with a non-conference sweep of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this past weekend at Compton Family Ice Arena. Thanks to some stellar play at the back end and an offensive outburst that saw Jeff Jackson’s team outscore RPI (4-9-0, 3-3-0 ECAC) 8-2 over two games, Notre Dame (10-4-1, 4-2-0 Big Ten) will head to conference rival No. 6 Penn State looking to end the first half of the season on a high note.
On Friday, the Irish came out swinging against the Engineers. Right from the start, Notre Dame dictated the game with puck possession and a strong forecheck that kept the puck in the offensive zone. After five minutes of pressure, the intensity paid off when an extended period of possession saw two freshmen, forward Alex Steeves and defenseman Nate Clurman, connect to open the scoring. Off of a feed from Clurman, Steeves skated in untouched from the right side and fired past RPI goalie Linden Marshall to give Notre Dame the early lead.
“Our freshmen are doing a good job for us,” Jackson said postgame. “The two young defensemen back there, they’re playing regular, and Nick Leivermann got some shifts tonight, too, so we got three young guys back there. But I’ll trumpet that freshmen line [of forwards Graham Slaggert and Jake Pivonka and Steeves]. They’re fun. I put them back together, they were separated and I had been rotating them onto the fourth line for taking bad penalties, but tonight they were back together and they stayed out of the box.”
The Engineers pushed for an equalizer, but junior and Mike Richter Award-winner Cale Morris stood strong in goal, making several key saves to maintain the one-goal advantage.
At the other end, the Irish had some clear-cut chances to double the lead, which it finally did with 42.9 seconds left in the period. Senior defenseman Bobby Nardella received the puck from senior center Jack Jenkins and dumped it off to oncoming junior right wing Cal Burke, who fired a slap shot from the right side that found the back of the net.
Notre Dame picked up right where it left off in the second, scoring two goals within the first two minutes to stretch the lead to 4-0. Steeves scored the first, his second of the game, with an impressive turnaround wrister from the left side that flew into the top-left corner. Thirty seconds later, junior left wing Cam Morrison got on the scoresheet, slotting home off of a feed from sophomore and fellow line-mate Colin Theisen.
RPI had a chance to get on the board when Nardella was called for interference with 12:19 left to give the Engineers a power play, but Morris was up to the challenge with an acrobatic diving save that kept the shutout intact.
The junior stopped 15 shots in the period, and with under a minute to go, added an assist for good measure. During an RPI line-change, Morris alertly looped a pass up to left wing Dylan Malmquist, who was gifted a clear chance. The senior repaid in kind, firing home past replacement RPI goalie Chase Perry to stretch the lead to 5-0, and giving Morris the second assist of his career, the first coming last season against RPI.
In the third period, RPI finally got on the board 1:40 into the frame thanks to freshman defenseman Kyle Hallbauer, but it was too little, too late. Notre Dame controlled the puck for the majority of the period and shut down any chance of a comeback, securing the 5-1 victory.
Postgame, Jackson praised Cale Morris for his 36-save effort.
“I can’t say enough about his performance. RPI, they had some good opportunities, they did some things really well, I mean it was a tough game,” Jackson said. “The score’s probably not indicative of the game, because it was a pretty evenly-played game for the most part, but Cale had to make some great saves for us to get that lead.”
Morris added that the team’s attention to detail is what helped the Irish dominate throughout the game.
“It’s nice to get some good saves in early and just get into the game quick,” he said. “A lot of guys were doing a lot of good things so I just have to give it to the guys for playing well tonight. … I think we’re just sticking to details. We’re working hard above the puck so we’re doing the little things right, and it’s nice to get some contributions from some of the younger guys and disperse the goals there, so it’s a good team effort.”
Looking for the sweep on Saturday, the Irish were almost stunned early by the Engineers, as forward Todd Burgess went one-on-one with sophomore goalie Dylan St. Cyr — starting in place of Morris, who was given the night off — within the first minute. But St. Cyr stood tall and blocked the shot to keep the game scoreless. Five minutes later, the Irish drew first blood thanks to Morrison, who slotted home his second of the series off of a feed from junior center Mike O’Leary, who slipped a nifty backhand from the board to gift Morrison a one-on-one.
After a scoreless second period which saw both goalies makes several key stops, RPI ramped up the pressure in the third period as the Engineers looked to equalize. But St. Cyr was up to the challenge and made 17 saves in the period, including several big ones. Notre Dame finally rewarded his efforts when Theisen scored his own rebound with 6:24 to go, putting the Irish up 2-0. Malmquist added an empty-netter to seal the win three minutes later.
Jackson was very pleased with his team’s performance, especially St. Cyr’s.
“One thing this team has is goaltending, and that’s not a bad thing to have,” Johnson said. “We have two guys who can play; obviously Cale’s our backbone, but every time I’ve put Dylan in there he’s played extremely well. He’s different than Cale, he handles the puck really well and makes good plays with the puck, and he played big tonight. I work with him every week, and that’s why I have the confidence to put him in any situation … he’s had three really good games for us and I want to continue to try and rotate him in so I can keep him fresh and keep Cale fresh as well.
Generally, Jackson said he was pleased with the team’s response in a back-to-back series.
“I thought we managed the game pretty well,” he said. “In the third period they put a push on and had some chances, but I thought we did a good job, I thought we possessed the puck pretty well, I thought we came out of our zone better tonight, some of the things that we’ve been working on and trying to improve on I thought we did a pretty decent job with.”
Riding a six-game win streak after a string of non-conference games, Notre Dame next faces a road trip to face No. 6 Penn State (10-4-1, 2-3-1) in a Big Ten matchup. Jackson said the Irish will be tested, but are hoping to head into the winter break with some momentum.
“We went in there last year and had a little success, but it’s challenging,” he said on playing the Nittany Lions. “It’s a very, very challenging environment, they have one of the best crowds in the country as far as creating an intimidating environment. But right now we’re growing as a team and we need to continue to get better in a lot of parts of our game, and going into that building it’s going to be a challenge.
“I’ll tell you right now, they’re going to have 50 shots — it’s just an automatic for them, they put everything on net and try and create traffic. They’re a hard team to play against, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job right now, we want to finish the first half on a positive note. There’s six points on the line for the conference, we only have one non-conference left, so it was a really important week for us as far as non-conference games.”