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Sports

Notre Dame hockey starts season strong with 5-2 victory over LIU

| Monday, October 11, 2021

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. The Notre Dame men’s hockey team (1-0-0-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) did just that on Saturday night, kicking off their 2021-22 regular season with a 5-2 victory over the Long Island University Sharks (0-3-0-0, Independent). Better yet, they did so in front of over 3,000 fans, the first ones allowed in Compton Family Ice Arena since February 2020.

After dropping in an exhibition contest last weekend to the U.S. National Team Development Program, the Irish took a step forward Saturday night, particularly in transition, according to Irish head coach Jeff Jackson.

“We were much more intelligent as far as not making decisions that led to odd-man rushes, and that was something we practiced this week. I thought we did some good things; (LIU is) a hard team to play against,” Jackson said. 

It didn’t take long for the Irish to make that great first impression. After Janicke nearly buried a backdoor feed off an early rush opportunity, senior defenseman and alternate captain Nick Leivermann let a wrist shot go that found twine just 54 seconds in. The goal was initially waved off, likely due to suspected goaltender interference on junior forward Solag Bakich. But the call was overturned on review, giving the Irish an early lead.

Though it took a while for Notre Dame to grow their lead, it was not for a lack of chances. The Irish drew the game’s first two power-plays, producing a couple of close calls — most notably junior right winger Max Ellis chipping a backhander off the post. Sophomore right-winger Ryder Rolston struck iron on a breakaway chance that appeared to also knick LIU goaltender Vincent Purpura. Though the shots in the first period were pretty close (8-6 in favor of Notre Dame), there was no mistaking that the Irish were clearly the better team.

It seemed like the Irish were going to grab firm control of the game when they doubled their lead with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first period. Courtesy of a backdoor feed from senior center and captain Graham Slaggert to his brother, sophomore forward Landon Slaggert, who flew down the ice to redirect Graham’s feed past Purpura. The Irish vaulted to a well-earned 2-0 lead. But seemingly before their celebration even ended, LIU got back in the game when Billy Jerry deflected a centering feed from pinching defender Jake Stevens past Notre Dame graduate student goaltender Matthew Galajda with just under a minute left in the first period.

But the Irish didn’t let that late goal get to them, scoring nearly as many goals (three) as there were Long Island shots (four) in the second period. Notre Dame restored their two-goal lead on the shoulders of Rolston, who circled from the left boards all the way to the high slot before taking a shot that resulted in a rebound goal for senior center Cam Burke. Notre Dame’s fourth power-play opportunity proved to be the charm, as graduate student right-winger Jack Adams threaded the needle to freshman center Hunter Strand, who buried his first collegiate goal far-side.

Just two minutes later, after failing to convert on a breakaway and a slot shot seconds earlier, junior left winger Solag Bakich buried a feed from junior center Trevor Janicke at point-blank range, putting the Irish in the driver’s seat. It’s rare that a team gets a goal from all four lines, but that’s exactly what happened for the Irish.

“We’ve got some holes right now due to injuries, Jackson said, “And it’s good to see guys be able to elevate and play important roles that maybe haven’t done it in the past. That’s encouraging.”

The Sharks got one back a few minutes into the third, with Jerry beating Galajda on a clean look from the slot for his second of the contest. It certainly wasn’t a busy night for the new Irish goaltender Galajda. Making his first start in two years, the grad transfer faced just 17 shots but looked solid when called upon in his Irish debut.

“I thought he did a good job,” Jackson said of Galajda’s performance. “He did what he needed to do to help us win, and that’s all you can ask for your goaltender to do.”

Terry’s goal was the last notable event of the night, save for a scrum in the final 90 seconds that resulted in three penalties, including majors assessed LIU’s Isaiah Fox for boarding and to Notre Dame freshman right-winger Justin Janicke for grabbing the facemask of an LIU player. But when the final horn sounded, the teams still shook hands, and the Irish swayed to the alma mater behind a pile of hockey sticks and in front of what remained of the 3,156 person crowd, capping off the night with a Carolina Hurricanes Storm Surge-esque synchronized leap into the glass in front of the band.

There was no better way to end the first ND hockey game back from COVID. If the return of normal times across the world includes the return of the hockey excellence Notre Dame has made seem normal under Jackson, there should be plenty of similar scenes taking place over the months to come. The Irish will be back in action next weekend, with road contests at Michigan Tech (2-0-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Northern Michigan (2-0-0-0, 2-0-0 CCHA) on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a sophomore from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Feel free to reach out to talk sports or shows, especially if they're Ted Lasso, Survivor, or/and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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