Irish fall to Nittany Lions in Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals
Nate Moller | Monday, March 15, 2021
The Notre Dame hockey team was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament Sunday afternoon at Compton Family Ice Arena when the fourth-seeded Irish lost to the fifth-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions by a score of 6-3.
After the game, head coach Jeff Jackson talked about how challenging it is to beat a team multiple times. The Irish (14-13-2, 12-10-2 Big Ten) were coming off of a dominating sweep of Penn State (10-11-0, 7-11-0 Big Ten) last weekend.
“It’s just so tough to beat a team four straight times,” Jackson said. “For them this was their fifth straight game against us. It’s just challenging, especially after playing them last weekend.”
Initially, it looked like the Irish were going to dominate the game. After a Penn State penalty for too many men on the ice a minute and a half into the game, the Irish were able to convert on the power play. After a couple of rebounds and saves, the puck fell to senior forward Colin Theisen, who buried the puck in the back of the net 2:10 into the game to give the Irish an early 1-0 lead. Theisen was assisted by freshman forward Landon Slaggert and junior forward Alex Steeves.
It did not take the Irish long to strike again with sophomore forward Jesse Lansdell adding another one for the Irish to give Notre Dame a 2-0 advantage 2:41 into the game. Lansdell was assisted by senior defenseman Matt Hellickson and sophomore forward Max Ellis.
From that point on, though, it was all Penn State, as they put constant pressure on the Irish defense and senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr for the remainder of the game.
Jackson discussed how the early goals affected his team.
“We might have thought it was going to be easy, and it caught up to us,” Jackson said. “Our team didn’t play anywhere near what we did in the first ten minutes.”
Jackson discussed what went well at the beginning of the game.
“We had sustained pressure in the offensive zone,” Jackson said. “We got pucks in deep and really did a good job of working the puck corner to corner and low to high and getting traffic to the goal.”
The Nittany Lions were finally able to convert one of their many opportunities late into the first period after a review determined that Penn State freshman forward Christian Sarlo’s shot had scraped the upper netting of the goal. After the goal, the Nittany Lions continued to put pressure on the Irish, but the Irish held onto their 2-1 lead at the end of the first period.
Jackson talked about what that first goal did to his team.
“After they got that first goal, the tide started changing,” Jackson said. “I think that we turned the puck over too many times against a team that transitions too well like Penn State.”
It was the Nittany Lions who dominated the second period, as they won the period 3-0 and took a 4-2 lead over the Irish. Sophomore forward Connor McMenamin of the Nittany Lions scored the first second period goal, drilling a puck by St. Cyr 3:19 into the period to tie the game up at 2 points apiece.
After killing an Irish power play, McMenamin and the Penn State offense continued to be an issue for the Irish. After an Irish mistake on defense, McMenamin slipped another shot by St. Cyr off of a one-on-one breakaway shot to give Penn State a 3-2 lead halfway through the second period.
Things only got worse for the Irish. A few minutes later, the Irish were called for a tripping penalty and were under heavy pressure again with the Nittany Lions putting shot after shot on St. Cyr. Eventually, the Nittany Lions were able to breakthrough yet again and score their fourth consecutive goal and third of the period to take a 4-2 lead.
After killing a Penn State power play early on in the third period, the Irish were in desperate need of a goal to get back in the game, but it was the Nittany Lions who continued to generate the better chances and keep constant pressure on St. Cyr and the Irish defense. With 11:40 to go in the game, the Nittany Lions broke through again and scored off of a rebound to take a commanding 5-2 lead and put the game out of reach for the Irish.
The Irish got one goal back off of a power play with just under nine minutes to go in the game. After sending St. Cyr to the bench to gain a two man advantage, freshman forward Ryder Rolston snuck the puck past Penn State senior goaltender Oskar Autio for his first career collegiate goal to cut the lead to 5-3. Rolston was assisted by junior forward Jake Pivonka.
Unfortunately for the Irish, they were called for a charging penalty seconds later, killing some of the momentum from the goal. After killing the power play, the Irish emptied the net with three minutes to go, but they were not able to break through and score again. Instead, the Nittany Lions added an empty net goal with under a minute to go and secure the 6-3 victory.
With the loss, the Irish are eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament and will likely not make the NCAA Tournament. Although the Irish were going to miss the NCAA Tournament last year before the pandemic began, this year would mark the first time since 2015 that the Irish officially missed the tournament.
Jackson discussed what this loss means for his team’s chances at making the tournament.
“I think we deserve some respect for the NCAA Tournament,” Jackson said. “Today was important to put ourselves in position, but the conference is so strong. We are one of the few teams in the country that has played 12 games against three of the top six teams in the country. Our record could be a lot better if we were playing the bottom teams from other conferences.”
With the win, Penn State moves on to the semifinals where they will take on Wisconsin at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon. The Irish will wait until next Sunday to hear about their fate for the NCAA Tournament.