Irish to battle the Badgers with crucial Big 10 points on the line
Andrew McGuinness | Friday, February 19, 2021
The good news for the Irish (10-11-1, 8-9-1-1-2-1 Big 10) is that they are due for some goals this weekend.
The bad news is that feeling is the result of consecutive 3-0 losses to the Minnesota Golden Gophers last weekend. After scoring 14 goals against Ohio State the weekend prior, the Irish peppered Minnesota goalie Jack LaFontaine with 49 shots over the weekend, but were unable to light the lamp in either contest.
Now, the focus shifts to the Wisconsin Badgers (13-8-0, 11-6-0-0-1-0 Big Ten). A two-game road swing against the second-best team in the Big Ten will undoubtedly be a big test. Notre Dame dropped each of their first two meetings of the year to the Badgers. Notre Dame was shutout 2-0 to start the season way back on Nov. 13. Senior forward Colin Theisen recorded a hat-trick in the second contest the very next day, but the Irish fell 5-3.
But Jeff Jackson’s squad has reasons to be optimistic they’ll fare better in the re-match. Perhaps the biggest reason for that optimism is Notre Dame’s outstanding road record. The lack of opposing crowds has been a huge help for the Irish; they are 7-1-0 away from Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame won the same amount of road games last year in over twice as many games (18). Considering Wisconsin owns a respectable but not dominant 7-5-0 record at home, ND’s upset odds seem a little bit better.
A big reason for Wisconsin’s success is a Big 10 best 65 goals and 32.1% power-play percentage this season. Leading the way is 2019 Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Cole Caufield. The 5-foot-7 winger leads the NCAA with 33 points and 17 goals in just 21 games. He put nearly identical numbers as a first-year last year in 15 more games. Caufield might not be the biggest player, but he is one of the biggest offensive threats in college hockey.
The Irish held Caufield to just two assists in their first series this season, a performance they would likely gladly take again considering Caufield’s incredible potential and skill. Fellow mid-first round pick Dylan Holloway (taken 14th by Edmonton in 2020) is another lethal threat, registering 25 points in just 14 games.
The good news is the Irish are one of the stingiest teams in the Big 10, ranking third in the conference with 2.28 goals allowed per game and second with a strong 85.1% penalty kill that’s coming off a 3-for-3 performance last Saturday. Senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr is a huge part of that and was a bright spot in last Friday’s defeat, stopping 30 of 32 shots.
This series could be defined by a goalie duel. St. Cyr and Ryan Bischel, who made his first start since January 15 last Saturday, will face-off in goal with first-year Cameron Rowe. Rowe’s collegiate career is off to an excellent start; he currently sits first in the Big 10 and second in the entire NCAA with a .945 save percentage. Look for goals to come at a premium this weekend.
If the Irish are able to find their offensive stride, Alex Steeves will likely play a part. The junior forward leads the Irish with 10 goals and 22 points, and is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award, which fans can vote for online, as the top men’s college hockey player (Wisconsin’s Caufield, Holloway, and forward Linus Weissbach are also among the nominees). It wouldn’t be the first time Steeves has torched the Badgers; he recorded a career-high three assists and four points in a 5-2 Irish win over the Badgers on Jan. 25, 2020.
Notre Dame and Wisconsin will drop the puck at 8 p.m. Friday night and 5 p.m. Saturday evening. The games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Wisconsin and can be streamed on Big 10 Network Plus. With only two other series remaining on the regular season schedule, the Irish certainly have a lot to play for this weekend in Madison.