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Sports

Irish ready to bring playoff hockey mindset in Big Ten Tournament

| Thursday, March 3, 2022

The No. 7 Irish (25-9-0, 17-6-0 B10) will begin their postseason stretch this weekend when they host the Wisconsin Badgers (9-22-3, 6-17-1 B10) at home in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Irish finished the regular season strong, winning their last five games, which included a series sweep of then-No.2 Michigan last weekend.

Head coach Jeff Jackson has stressed the importance of playing with a playoff hockey mindset, and he believes his team has shown that as of late.

“For us, it’s a matter of how we are playing at this point. I’ve been stressing that we need to get into that playoff hockey mindset,” Jackson said. “That means you play with discipline, and it means you manage the puck well. In order to win in the playoffs, you have to have good goaltending and take advantage of the few opportunities you do get on special teams.”

Jackson acknowledged that one area his team needs to improve on this postseason is puck possession.

“We have played pretty well the last two weekends. For me it’s still about doing a great job with the puck, especially coming out of our zone to the neutral zone and trying to possess the puck more consistently,” Jackson said. “Michigan had a fair amount of possession time [last weekend]. We defended well, but I would like to possess more and have to defend less.”

The Irish were distanced from the top of the Big Ten pretty early in the calendar year, and since then Jackson has stressed the importance of the Big Ten tournament and standing in the national rankings.

“Once the opportunity to not win a regular-season championship came into play, it was about making sure that we held our position in the conference and nationally as well,” Jackson said.

The Irish currently sit tied for fifth in the Pairwise rankings, which is a model used to simulate the decisions the NCAA Tournament selection committee will make. Although the Irish should be comfortably in the tournament field, they could improve their seeding in the NCAA Tournament to a No.1 seed depending on how they play in the Big Ten Tournament.

Rather than focusing on these rankings or winning a championship, Jackson has stressed the importance of simply playing good hockey in the playoffs.

“For me it’s more about how we are playing going into the playoffs than it is about what we are trying to accomplish. Obviously we want to win a championship. The Big Ten championship is the one in front of us right now, but there’s a lot of work to be done to get to that point,” Jackson said. “If we focus on what we want to do and continue to improve on the areas that we want to get better at, we put ourselves in position to move up in the Pairwise rankings and also potentially to win a Big Ten championship.”

The Irish have used two goaltenders this year in graduate student Matthew Galajda and junior Ryan Bischel, but Galajda has started the last five games for the Irish.

This two-goalie situation is something that Jackson has never seen before.

“I have never been in this situation before where we have two guys that have battled it out all year long,” Jackson said. “They get along great, and they understand when the other guy is hot, they let them have their way for a while.”

Galajda came in for a struggling Bischel a few weeks ago against Wisconsin, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Jackson discussed the recent confidence that he has seen in Galajda.

“The hot hand more recently has been Matthew [Galajda],” Jackson said. “For me it’s about confidence. You can tell he’s got a presence in the crease, and he’s real quiet in the way he plays the game. There aren’t a lot of rebounds, and there are not a lot of loose pucks laying in the crease area. That’s when I can tell he’s dialed in.”

Although Galajda is playing great hockey right now, Jackson anticipates Bischel might play some this weekend as well.

“I don’t want to discredit Ryan Bischel because he might play this weekend too, especially when you have a best-of-three series,” Jackson said. “It’s nice to know that I have two goalies that could potentially play.”

In a best-of-three series, Jackson understands the importance of winning the first game of the series and not getting behind.

“It’s always nice to win that first night rather than putting yourself in a tougher position where you know you have to win the last two games,” Jackson said. “Just playing well and giving us a chance to win that first night is probably the most important thing.”

Although the Badgers have struggled a lot this season, they played Notre Dame tough a couple of weekends ago, winning the first game of the series and challenging the Irish in the second game as well.

Jackson discussed how that Wisconsin series played out.

“They beat us the first night. They scored two or three goals right away and we were playing chase up the rest of the way,” Jackson said. “The second night, I thought we played well, but they played well too. It was a tough, gritty game and either team could have won the second game too.”

Jackson fully expects the Badgers to be motivated and ready to prove something against the Irish this weekend after facing many obstacles during the regular season.

“I expect it to be a tough, gritty series against a team that probably has some hunger going into the postseason just because of the way some things played out for them in the second half. They are one of the few teams that had issues with COVID that impacted their team. They’ve had some tough injuries too.”

The puck will drop at Compton Family Ice Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. If necessary, a third game will be played Sunday at 6 p.m. All games can be viewed on Big Ten Network Plus. As the three-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, these will likely be the last home games of the year for the Irish.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

Contact Nate