Notre Dame kicks off Big Ten gauntlet with series vs. Wisconsin
Andrew McGuinness | Friday, November 12, 2021
This weekend marks a turning point in the Notre Dame (6-3-0, 0-2-0-0 B10) hockey season. The Irish took care of business against a slew of non-conference opponents, winning six of seven (excluding a winless two-game road trip to Big Ten foe Minnesota two weeks ago). But from here on out, it’s almost all Big Ten for the rest of the year; 22 of Notre Dame’s final 25 regular-season games, including 8 of 9 games remaining in the 2021 calendar year, are against Big Ten opponents.
There’s no easing into this stretch either for the Irish, as it begins with a two-game series against reigning Big Ten regular-season champions, the Wisconsin Badgers (4-6-0, 2-2-1-0 B10). The Badgers took three of four from the Irish last year, while Notre Dame hasn’t won the season series against Wisconsin since 2018-19.
The Irish will be coming into this game with momentum after sweeping a Thursday-Friday back-to-back against Holy Cross in dominant fashion. The Irish outscored Holy Cross 9-3 in a pair of three-goal victories, while also outshooting Holy Cross 60-48 despite leading for most of the series. Seven different Irish players scored across the two games.
Though the season is still young, some early trends are starting to emerge for both teams. The Irish have averaged over 32 shots on goal per game, a very strong mark, led by 36 from leading scorer junior forward Max Ellis (11 points in 9 games). Last season, Notre Dame’s offense centered around their top line, two-thirds of which return this year in senior forward Graham Slaggert and sophomore forward Landon Slaggert. This year, the Irish offense is very well-rounded, which is currently led by Ellis and junior forward Solag Bakich, both of whom are point-per-game or better so far in the young season.
But it isn’t all about offense for Notre Dame. Graduate transfer Matthew Galajda is establishing himself as a backbone for Jeff Jackson’s club, starting six of the Irish’s nine games while recording an excellent .932 save percentage. He’s also helped Notre Dame’s penalty kill allow just one goal in 27 opportunities to date, a stellar 96.3% mark.
Wisconsin isn’t off to the type of start you would expect from the Badgers, whose offense sorely misses the special talent of sharpshooter Cole Caufield, who turned pro with the Montréal Canadiens after last season. Wisconsin is averaging just 1.9 goals per game, one of the worst marks in the Big Ten. Only Brock Caufield has more than two goals so far this season, while the Irish have six players who have already reached that milestone.
If Wisconsin hopes to make this a successful road trip, they’ll need their special teams to improve and their goaltending to stand strong. Special teams in hockey are generally regarded as solid if a team’s penalty kill and power play percentage adds up to 100%. Wisconsin is at just 71.6%, with both their PK (17/27) and man advantage (3/31) struggling out of the gate. Notre Dame should be able to test the Badgers PK offense, as Wisconsin is currently the Big Ten’s most penalized club. The Badgers can’t blame their short-handed struggles on goaltender Jared Moe; he’s been arguably Wisconsin’s biggest bright spot thus far, posting an excellent .937 save percentage in 8 games.
The Badgers arrive in Notre Dame coming off back-to-back series splits versus Minnesota and at Michigan. Wisconsin has struggled in the early goings-on the road, dropping three of four. The Irish, meanwhile, are 4-1 at home, with the opportunity to tie last year’s home win total on Friday in eleven fewer games.
Notre Dame takes on the Badgers on Friday night at 7:30 PM and Saturday night at 6 PM. Both games take place at Compton Family Ice Arena. You can watch Friday’s game on NBCSN and Saturday’s on NBC Sports Chicago. Both games can be streamed online at NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.