Irish comeback falls short against Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium
Joe Everett | Saturday, January 5, 2019
Playing inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in program history, No. 6 Notre Dame couldn’t overcome poor opening-period play and fell to rival Michigan 4-2 in the inaugural “Let’s Take This Outside” game.
Although Notre Dame (12-6-1, 5-4-0 Big Ten) could not sweeten the experience of playing inside “The house that Rockne built” with a win, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said the total experience was a special one.
“It was a great crowd, the weather was good for us and the ice was good,” Jackson said. “I thought it was a great event with a great opponent. Everything was positive in that regard. For me, it’s being in this place, walking down that tunnel. The history of this building and just the history of the people that have been in that locker room and have walked down that tunnel, it’s a great thrill.”
However, in front of a program-record attendance of 23,422, Notre Dame struggled mightily in the first period, and experienced a bit of bad luck in the process. At the 4:42 mark, Michigan senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi powered the puck toward the Notre Dame net as he skated off the ice and the Wolverines (7-7-6, 3-4-4 Big Ten) prepared for the a line change. Unfortunately for Irish junior goalkeeper Cale Morris, who also battled sunny conditions throughout the opening period, the puck took a tough hop off the ice and found its way into the back of the net, giving the Wolverines an improbable 1-0 lead on a shot that started behind Michigan’s own blue line.
“Yesterday we practiced in the morning, but we probably should’ve practiced at dusk,” Jackson said. “Cale lost a few pucks … but it was just a fluky goal. It put us on our heels and we had to chase the game from there.”
Just seconds later, Michigan junior forward Will Lockwood made a move down the left side and beat Morris for his sixth goal of the season to extend the lead to two with 15 minutes still left in the opening period. After penalties to both teams were enforced and a four-on-four sequence ensued, the Wolverines found their third goal of the period just after the Irish returned to full strength, as freshman forward Nolan Moyle took a pass from sophomore Dakota Raabe and slotted home a shot from the right side to push the Wolverine lead to 3-0 and stun the Irish early.
“There were a couple funky goals in the first period and you’re chasing the game for 60 minutes. They’re not an easy team to come back on,” Jackson said.
As the evening turned into night overhead, the second period saw much more even play. After Michigan junior defenseman Griffin Luce was called for tripping near the five-minute mark, Notre Dame went on the power play and quickly capitalized, as junior forward Cam Morrison powered one past Wolverine junior goalkeeper Hayden Lavigne to get the Irish on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. Irish senior forward Dylan Malmquist and junior defenseman Andrew Peeke assisted on the goal, and the Irish aimed to capitalize on some momentum and get back in the game. However, the Wolverines were tactically sound for the rest of the period and Jackson’s squad was unable to generate much offense for the remaining 14 minutes of the middle period.
The third period saw a largely defensive battle, as both Morris and Lavigne continued to settle in and provide quality play between the pipes. Morris finished the game with 38 saves, while Lavigne totaled 30. Still down 3-1 with the final period winding down, Jackson pulled Morris with four minutes to go to gain an extra offensive player. The move paid off, as freshman forward Alex Steeves put one in the back of the net with 2:48 left to pull the Irish within one goal. Jackson briefly reinstated Morris in goal, then pulled him again with a minute remaining as the Irish attempted one final attack to try and tie the game. However, the comeback effort fell short, as the Michigan defense shut down the Irish offense and Raabe broke away down the left side and scored on an empty net goal with 11 seconds left to seal the 4-2 win.
With 15 Big Ten games the rest of the way, Jackson realizes the home stretch of the regular season will be a good test for the team before postseason play.
“We have to recognize the rest of the way is all Big Ten [play] and this conference is going to be challenging; it’s going to be a tough second half for us,” he said. “I think we’re in a good position — we just have to take control of the ice and steal an occasional road game. I was encouraged by our team’s attitude. They could’ve gotten down after the first goal but they didn’t. They stayed up and had a good approach. They battled right to the end and that’s a positive sign going forward.”
The Irish will next return to the ice for a two-game home series against Minnesota next weekend at Compton Family Ice Arena, in which the puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday.