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Irish lose and draw to open hockey season

This weekend the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team traveled to Colorado to play a pair of local teams in the Ice Breaker Tournament. In Friday’s matchup, the Irish squared off against the Denver Pioneers, a program with a longstanding hockey tradition. The Pioneers are the defending national champions and entered the season ranked No. 1. It was a big test for the Irish at the very beginning of the year, playing a quality team on the road. 

In the first period, the Pioneers pressured the puck, outshooting the eleventh-ranked Irish 11-3. Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel kept the score clean until late in the period, when the Pioneers power play netted a goal. 12 minutes into the second period, the Pioneers again found the net on the power play. Then, Notre Dame went on the power play. The Irish passed the puck around the zone, eventually finding junior forward Ryder Rolston just beyond the faceoff circle for a one-time goal to cut the lead in half. Denver got another goal before the second period ended to make the score 3-1 at the second intermission.

In the third period, Notre Dame continued to fight. They went on the offensive, which eventually led to a wraparound goal by graduate student defenseman Chase Blackmun off of a rebound to make the score 3-2. With about 6 minutes left, Notre Dame stole the puck off of a Denver power play and had a breakaway chance to tie the game. Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona stepped up to the moment, making a key save. A few minutes later, the Pioneers added to their lead courtesy of a McKade Webster goal. After Notre Dame pulled their goalie the Pioneers added an empty-netter, making the final score a deceiving 5-2. The Irish showed in this game that they can compete with anyone in the country, but there’s room for improvement if they hope to hunt down a national championship this season. 

In the second game, Notre Dame squared off against the Air Force Academy, another team accustomed to the challenges that high altitude brings. Air Force received votes but ended up unranked in the first poll. Air Force got the first points on the board on a power play, and the Irish were unable to find the net in 11 shots in the first period. In the second period, Air Force netted two more, expanding the lead to three goals. The Irish finally found the net with 9:15 left to play in the second period, with junior defenseman Zach Plucinski hitting from the hash. Going into the third period, the Irish were staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start. However, they rescued the result via a last-gasp rally. 

Senior forward Solag Bakich scored off of a rebound six minutes into the period. His classmate, Trevor Janicke, scored soon after on a power play goal after an Air Force penalty to trim the deficit to one. Air Force responded to double the lead shortly after, but the Irish continued to battle. Sophomore defenseman Jake Boltmann scored with just over eight minutes left and Rolston scored the equalizer with 72 seconds left in the contest to bring it to overtime. No one scored in the overtime period and the Falcons won the shootout 2-1. Officially, the result goes down as a tie. 

The Irish challenged themselves early in the year, going on the road to play two quality teams in high altitude. Although the results were surely not what the Irish were hoping for, these two games provided points of emphasis for the coaching staff in the upcoming weeks before conference play. Bischel is still rounding into form after splitting time in the net for portions of last season. The Irish penalty kill was near the top of the rankings last season and if the Irish want to achieve the goals they have set for this year, they’ll have to get quality play from their special teams. Notre Dame is back in action on Friday and Sunday, playing Northern Michigan at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney2@nd.edu.

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