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After Badgers COVID scare, Irish look to stay hot in road-trip to Madison

| Thursday, February 10, 2022

All week the Irish have been gearing up for their road series against the Wisconsin Badgers. After COVID-19 concerns within the Badgers squad resulted in the indefinite postponement of this week’s matchup, the Irish are back on to be in Madison Saturday and Sunday for their two-game series.

It’s easy to see how Notre Dame’s hockey team (20-8-0, 12-6-0-4-0-0 B10) could take things lightly heading into this weekend’s series with the Wisconsin Badgers (8-19-3, 5-14-1-2-1-1 B10). Not only are the Badgers near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but the Irish are almost certain to finish the year fourth in the same standings. They currently sit a whopping 15 points ahead of Penn State, who the Irish convincingly swept out of Compton Family Ice Arena last weekend. And they’re five points behind a Minnesota team that has a fairly easy schedule (@ Ohio State, @ Penn State, vs. Wisconsin) to finish the year.

Both teams can certainly use the opportunity to earn the extra points. The Irish remain within shouting distance of Minnesota for third in the conference and they can use the weekend to grab some much-needed points. Wisconsin on the other hand is trying to separate itself from the bottom-three pack. The pack includes Michigan State, Penn State and the Badgers themselves. If they are able to do that, they would secure the easiest possible first-round matchup for themselves.

It would take a perfect storm of events for the Irish to have a chance of cracking the conference’s top three, though especially with ND’s final regular-season series (Feb. 25-26) coming against the talented Michigan Wolverines.

Still, there’s a lot for the Irish to play for heading into their third-to-last regular-season series, at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center. No team in the Big Ten has a better record in their last ten games than Notre Dame’s 8-2 mark. Notre Dame’s three-game winning streak is tied for first in the conference with Ohio State and Michigan. And after a bit of a frustrating series against Minnesota that included their biggest loss of the season (in terms of goal differential) Friday and a blown 2-0 lead that allowed the Golden Gophers to salvage a point Saturday, the Irish want to keep the good vibes from last weekend’s excellent efforts rolling for as long as possible.

It’s not just that the Irish swept their series against the Nittany Lions, or even just how dominant they were in doing so; outscoring Penn State 10-2 and holding a team that averages nearly 80 shots per series to under 70. There were feel-good stories all around the ice last weekend, with a whopping four players. Freshman left-winger Justin Janicke, graduate student defenseman Chase Blackmun, freshman forward Tyler Carpenter and graduate student defenseman Adam Karashik all scored not only their first goals of the season but their first in a Notre Dame sweater. Even without key senior defenseman Nick Leivermann, the Irish played some of their best hockey of the season against the Nittany Lions and were rewarded handsomely for doing so.

The series also served as a major step towards figuring out who the Irish will keep in goal going forward. Junior goaltender Ryan Bischel is well on his way to seizing the starter’s job, stopping 67 of 69 (.971 save percentage) over the weekend and recording his second shutout of the season on Saturday. It was enough to earn him the honor of being the Big Ten’s first star of the weekend. Bischel has now started seven of Notre Dame’s last ten games and relived graduate student Matthew Galajda in the first period of last Friday’s game against Minnesota after Galajda allowed three goals on six shots in the first period. Yes, Penn State has thrown a lot of shots on the net and struggled to finish all season; but Bischel has looked locked in for a while now. This is starting to become his crease, assuming it’s not already.

It’s been a disappointing season for the Badgers, who were predicted to finish third in the conference but have struggled all season and come into the weekend on a six-game losing streak. The Badgers have struggled in both ends of the ice; they’re tied for last in the B10 with Michigan State at 62 goals (no other team has fewer than 93) and have also surrendered the most goals against at 102.

Starting goaltender Jared Moe has been pretty solid for the Badgers; the Winnipeg Jets prospect has recorded a .915 save percentage in 25 games but has received little goal support. Just six Badgers have reached the 10-point marker this season, less than half the amount of Irish players who have hit the mark (14). Leading the way for Wisconsin offensively is defenseman Corson Cuelemans. A first-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer, Cuelemans has been one of Wisconsin’s few bright spots; only two other defensemen under 19 in the entire country have more points than Cuelemans’ 19. Brock Caufield, the younger brother of Montréal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield, has also been productive, delivering 16 points so far in his sophomore season.

While in theory, the Badgers should have a raw talent advantage over the Irish (Wisconsin has 10 NHL drafted players to Notre Dame’s 9), or at the very least be neutral, the Irish appear to have edges in both high-end talent at depth. Four Irish players have more points than Cuelemans’ Wisconsin-leading 19, Notre Dame’s 10 goals last weekend came from ten different goal scorers, with every forward line and defensive pairing chipping in offensively at some point over the weekend.

That was the formula that led the Irish to a sweep of the Badgers at home on November 13-14, with the Irish outscoring Wisconsin by a combined margin of 8-1, with seven different players scoring for Notre Dame (Max Ellis was the lone player to double-dip). The scary thing is the scores could’ve been even more lopsided, with the Irish outshooting Wisconsin 73-47 over the two games. Matthew Galajda did start both games for the Irish and played very well in each, so perhaps Jeff Jackson does turn to Galajda once this weekend to see if he can keep that success going.

The Irish and Badgers will battle this weekend in Wisconsin on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a sophomore in Siegfried Hall 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 TV shows, especially if they're Ted Lasso, Stranger Things, or/and Survivor.

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