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No. 15 Irish, Wisconsin split series

| Tuesday, February 19, 2019

No. 15 Notre Dame hosted and split its series with Wisconsin this past weekend in what was another major Big Ten matchup. The back-to-back games were characterized by an Irish team which is struggling to find consistency as the race for the postseason heats up.

After dropping Friday’s contest 1-2 to the Badgers and winning Saturday’s 5-2, the Irish (16-11-3, 9-9-2 Big Ten) now sit in third place, just two points below second-ranked Minnesota but only one point above fourth-ranked Michigan.

On Friday, Wisconsin (10-15-5, 6-9-5) jumped on the Irish early, with sophomore forward Linus Weissbach finding the back of the net on a power play just 5:31 into the game. The Irish nearly tallied one of their own just five minutes later behind a shot from junior forward Cam Morrison, but the goaltending of Badger freshman Daniel Lebedeff held Notre Dame off the board. The Irish were not denied for long, however, as senior forward Dylan Malmquist cleaned up a rebound in front of the goal to equalize the game with a little over four minutes remaining in the period. Solid goaltending from junior Cale Morris kept the score level going into the first break.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Sophomore forward Colin Theisen skates down the ice for the Irish in a game against Michigan in Compton Family Ice Arena.

In the second period, both teams exchanged scoring opportunities throughout, but it was the Badgers who grabbed the go-ahead goal after freshman forward Roman Ahcan found the back of the net, putting his team on the right side of a 2-1 lead.

In the final period, Notre Dame found two power-play opportunities, but found itself unable to convert. Despite heavily pressuring the Badgers, the Irish struggled to find twine as Lebedeff’s stellar performance in goal kept the Irish from tying the game. Ahcan’s goal in the second went on to be the game-winner as the Irish were unable to find an equalizer, losing 2-1.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson credited a slow start, as well as improved play from the Badgers, as the difference-maker in the loss.

“You can’t fall behind early,” Jackson said. “You’re chasing the game the whole time. I didn’t think we started off nearly as fast as we did against Michigan. [Wisconsin] played well. I thought they played much better than when we played them at Wisconsin.”

But on Saturday, Notre Dame was prepared, and the Irish had no trouble getting past Lebedeff via elevated play in special teams and shut-down goaltending from sophomore Dylan St. Cyr.

The Badgers started off quickly again, hemming the Irish in their zone and putting several shots on net. Wisconsin found the opening goal just 2:25 into the first, with senior forward Matthew Freytag putting a rebound past St. Cyr. The Irish responded by upping their physical play, as well as possession time, which earned them a power play just under nine minutes in.

This time, Notre Dame capitalized on its man advantage, and sophomore forward Colin Theisen drove home a cross-ice pass from junior forward Cal Burke to net his eighth goal of the season. The Irish continued to be busy on the power play, finding two more looks on the job — including a two-man advantage — but found themselves unable to convert. Both teams found scoring opportunities toward the end of the period, but the score remained tied going into intermission.

In the middle frame, the Irish offense exploded for three-straight goals, including another on the power play. Junior defenseman Andrew Peeke set up freshman forward Michael Graham for a redirection goal, to give the Irish their first lead of the series 2:30 into the period. The Irish struck again 10 minutes later when freshman forward Jake Pivonka redirected a pass from Cal Burke to give his team a 3-1 lead.

It continued to be all Irish in the second after a one-timer at the top of the right circle from Graham blistered off the post and in to give the freshman his fourth multi-goal game of the season, and a 4-1 lead to the Irish. St. Cyr continued to stand tall for his team, preserving the three-goal advantage going into the second intermission.

To start the third, Wisconsin shook things up by pulling Lebedeff in favor of junior goalie Jack Berry. Regardless, Notre Dame kept its foot on the gas, extending its lead with a third power-play goal late in the period. The score came from Burke at the mouth of the net who found the net off of a feed from Morrison. With Burke’s goal — his 10th of the season — the Irish took a 5-1 lead.

But not to be denied, the Badgers cut the Irish lead back down just seconds later with a goal from sophomore forward Sean Dhooghe. Despite the conceded goal, the Irish shored up defensively, and behind some timely saves from St. Cyr, Notre Dame kept Wisconsin off the board for the rest of the night to power on to a 5-2 victory.

Jackson commented on the difference in effort in his team’s second game.

“[We] were focused and engaged,” he said. “I thought [we] played a really good game against Michigan Tuesday night and [we] played a similar game tonight and we just have to find a way to do that every night.”

With the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament fast approaching, St. Cyr also praised the resilient play of the team.

“We do know that it’s getting to the time of year where we do need to win games so, I think for us, it was important for us to get back to our game,” St. Cyr said. “We knew it was just the first goal. Once we got that first goal for us, it really helped us calm us down and get back into it.”

Notre Dame now looks ahead to a series against Minnesota (13-14-4, 10-9-3), who sits two points ahead of them at second in the Big Ten standings. The Gophers are coming off of a two-game series against first-ranked Ohio State, where they swept the Buckeyes in Columbus. Jackson commented on the challenges his team will face on Friday and Saturday in Minnesota.

“We’ll have our hands full,” Jackson said. “We had a couple tough game with them here, so we’ll probably have to be as good as we were that Saturday night [the last time we played] and just a little bit better.”

With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Irish will look to put on a strong showing against the Gophers. The weekend series begins at 9 p.m. in Minneapolis.

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