Notre Dame faces stiff test against No. 1 Michigan
Aidan Thomas | Friday, November 19, 2021
After getting back on track in the Big 10 standings with a sweep against Wisconsin, the 14th-ranked Notre Dame hockey team will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on the number one ranked Michigan Wolverines with six critical points on the line. The Irish (8-3, 2-2 Big Ten) are going into the contest having won four straight and are hoping to carry their momentum into their next matchup, one that features a dangerous Michigan (10-2, 5-1 Big Ten) team that has the first overall pick from the 2021 National Hockey League (NHL) draft, Owen Power.
While the Irish have had success on the road against the Wolverines, having won the last five tilts at Yost Ice Arena, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson feels that this Michigan team is a deeper and skillful one from years past.
“Well they’re probably as talented a team as I can ever remember at Michigan,” Jackson said. “You know, top to bottom, every position they’re loaded. And I think that’s the biggest challenge is their depth.”
Shutting down a talented Michigan squad will have to go beyond just their top line, as all four forward lines present a scoring threat. The Wolverines are tied at the top for the highest-scoring offense with an average of 4.33 goals per game.
“They’ve got a core of lines,” Jackson said. “Their fourth line, I don’t even know what their fourth line is, but it could conceivably be a first-line on another team, so I mean they’re that deep up front, and then they’re not a whole lot different on the back end. They’ve got some real talent on the back end as well, including their goaltenders.”
Outside of 5 on 5 scoring, neutralizing the third Michigan powerplay will be another point of emphasis for the Irish, something that will require staying out of the penalty box, maintaining possession and potentially having to rely on their stellar penalty-killing unit. The Irish come in ranked first overall in the NCAA, having killed 37 of 39 for a .949 kill percentage.
“You got to be prepared,” Jackson said. “You have to do a good job of staying disciplined because their powerplay is exceptional. You have to do a good job of managing the puck because they’re very good on transition. For me that’s the biggest factor for us — try and stay out of the penalty box, playing with discipline, short shifts, good changes and then manage the puck well to where we don’t make turnovers.”
Though the Wolverines present a massive challenge for the Irish, coach Jackson feels that his team is trending in the right direction for their top 15 matchup that should prove to be a good measuring stick for the squad.
“Since the Minnesota series, I think we’ve gotten better,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve improved in our own end defensively, I think that was a big factor especially against Wisconsin. I think that we’re starting to see some progress on the powerplay, I’m not sure we’re over the hump yet but I like our game. You know I think we’re doing a good job possessing the puck in the offensive zone, especially two lines and then we’re starting to see the same thing out of the third line doing that same thing which really helps us. We need to continue building on that.”
Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 8:00 p.m. on Saturday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.