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Notre Dame hockey ends regular season with convincing sweep of Penn State

| Monday, March 8, 2021

Nearly three months after their regular season started, Notre Dame (14-12-2, 12-10-2-1-2-2) finished it in style. The Irish swept the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-11-0, 7-11-0-2-1-0) out of Compton Family Ice Arena with a 5-2 victory on Friday night. They were even better on their senior night Saturday, pulling out a 7-1 offensive explosion to wrap up the regular season.

The Irish got off to a bit of a slow start Friday, surrendering the game’s first three shots. They also gave up an early goal to senior defenseman Mason Snell, as a point shot through traffic beat senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr. But the Irish responded just 1:29 later. A good defensive play by junior forward Alex Steeves led to a great chance the other way. Steeves made a slick move in front of the net before setting up freshman forward Landon Slaggert backdoor, who tied the game and kept Notre Dame’s top-line red hot.

Penn State’s forecheck gave Notre Dame’s defense a real challenge, especially in the first twenty minutes. The Irish managed just seven shots in the first 20 minutes of play. However, they came out guns blazing in the second, registering six shots in less than seven minutes. But just as the Irish started to control play, Penn State broke the tie. Snell jumped up on the play during an excellent Penn State cycle, scoring on a pass that caromed in off an Irish skate.

But once again, the Irish responded in short order. Just 93 seconds later, Notre Dame tied the game. Senior forward Pierce Crawford, who took a huge hit early in the contest, made a tremendous pass out of the corner. Senior forward Matt Steeves received it uncovered and ripped a one-timer past Penn State’s goaltender, junior Oskar Autio, for his tenth goal of the season.

With the score tied heading into the third period, the Irish came out and delivered a strong performance. Notre Dame peppered Autio with 16 shots, and though they gave up 14 of their own, St. Cyr was on fire after the early goal, stopping 36 of Penn State’s final 37 shots.

St. Cyr’s performance gave Notre Dame’s offense time to find their stride, which they did early in the third. Sophomore forward Max Ellis scored an impressive goal, darting all the way through the neutral zone and into the slot to beat Autio with a wrist shot. A few minutes later, Notre Dame’s third line, which had some tremendous shifts, was finally rewarded for their efforts. Sophomore forward Trevor Janicke was denied on a jam play at the side of the net, only for the rebound to find a wide-open freshman defenseman Zach Plucinski for a tap-in to double the lead. Junior defenseman and captain Nick Clurman proved Notre Dame’s defense could find the score sheet, too. Clurman deflected a shot from junior forward Jake Pivonka past Autio to put the game out of reach with five minutes remaining.

Game two got off to completely the opposite start; Notre Dame came out of the gates guns blazing, registering the game’s four shots. However, for the second consecutive game, the Nittany Lions struck first. Penn State freshman forward Christian Sarlo broke behind the Irish defense and barely beat St. Cyr with a backhander.

It took the Irish a bit longer to respond, as they entered the second trailing 1-0. But just 33 seconds into the frame, senior defenseman Matt Hellickson sprung Alex Steeves to the goal uncovered. Alex would make it a two-goal weekend for the Steeves brothers, beating Autio high to the glove side to tie the game 1-1.

Notre Dame would add two more goals to their total before the second period concluded. Pivonka sniped one past Autio to break the deadlock after Ellis forced a neutral-zone turnover. Just a few minutes later, the Irish struck again. This time, Janicke deflected a point shot by senior defenseman Nick Leivermann to the back of the net, giving Notre Dame a 3-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

But Jeff Jackson’s club was not content with sitting on their lead, adding to it with a four-goal barrage. Impressively, all of the goals came at even strength, despite Penn State freshman defenseman Christian Berger receiving a five-minute major for contact to the head, which combined with another penalty, gave Notre Dame a full 2-minute 5-on-3 and an additional three minutes at 5-on-4. It was the culmination of a very physical series. Game two was especially physical, featuring several scrums and big hits.

After Penn State’s forecheck dominated the early portion of game one, Notre Dame’s forecheck finished the series strong. Early in the third, Ellis again forced a Penn State turnover, this time behind their own net. Sophomore forward Jesse Lansdell received a pass near the net and deftly lifted the puck over Autio’s glove. The goal gave Notre Dame a commanding 4-1 lead and a goalie change for the Nittany Lions.

The Irish continued to do the right things as the period went on, and continued to be rewarded. Senior forward Colin Theisen won a battle along the boards that caused the puck to pop into the slot. A wide-open Janicke was waiting there to score his second of the game and fourth of the year with a perfectly placed wrist shot.

Notre Dame continued to pour it on with a pair of late two-on-one goals. The first was a gorgeous give-and-go between junior defenseman Spencer Stastney and Ellis. The Slaggert brothers would combine for Notre Dame’s final goal of the regular season. Landon hit junior forward Graham Slaggert backdoor for his seventh of the year. Third goaltender senior Nick Sanford came in for the last five minutes. Sanford made a nice save on a backhander, the only shot he faced, to preserve the 7-1 final.

With the regular season complete, Notre Dame shifts its focus towards winning another Big Ten championship. This year’s tournament will be held at Compton Family Ice Arena from March 18-20. The Irish will face the same Penn State team in the quarter-finals.

The Irish are 3-0-1 against Penn State this year. The clubs split a pair of overtime decisions in State College in December. 

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