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No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 17 Michigan State meet in major series

| Friday, February 3, 2023

Much has changed since Notre Dame hockey hosted Michigan State back in late October. Ranked 12th at the time, the Irish had hoped to solidify themselves among the nation’s top 15; they now sit on the edge of the Top 20, according to USCHO rankings. The Spartans opened the season as an unproven bunch on the heels of a rocky season; they now have eyes on an NCAA tournament berth.

This weekend, a huge Notre Dame-Michigan State series looms in East Lansing. The Irish (13-12-3, 8-8-2) and Spartans (13-13-2, 7-9-2) will each have an opportunity to alter their postseason prospects significantly on a number of levels.

Sofia CrimiVaroli | The Observer
Irish senior forward Jesse Lansdell skates during the Irish’s 5-2 home defeat against Penn State.

What’s at stake

Thanks to the last two weekends, Notre Dame has returned to contention after a largely unimpressive November and December. The Irish earned a key split at Penn State and followed it up with a home sweep of Wisconsin. Notre Dame currently occupies the Big Ten’s 4th place spot with 26 points, one behind both Penn State and Ohio State.

Though the bearers of second place rank well above the Irish nationally, the Irish can reasonably hope to pass both in the conference standings. With the Nittany Lions visiting the Buckeyes this weekend, both teams cannot go 2-0. Also, even though OSU has two games in hand on Notre Dame, the Irish host them next weekend and have been playing much better at home. 

The Spartans have engineered an epic turnaround after last season’s struggles, but there are still questions regarding their competitiveness against the big dogs. Since early December, the Big Ten’s top three teams have outscored Michigan State 40-14. However, MSU will play each of its next three series against bottom four conference teams, including two at home. With a swift jump from 5th place to 4th or higher, the Spartans would position themselves to host in the Big Ten’s opening playoff round.

Why is that important? Michigan State is 9-4-1 at Munn Ice Arena this season and 4-9-1 elsewhere. In the national picture, all major rankings outlets place ND and MSU somewhere between 14th and 20th. The country’s top 16 teams receive an NCAA tournament berth, so series such as this one are intensely magnified.

Takeaways from October

Notre Dame secured four of the six possible points against Michigan State Oct. 28 to Oct. 29. In Friday’s 5-0 victory, the Irish looked as comfortable as they have against any opponent all season. Notre Dame jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and rode senior goaltender Ryan Bischel’s shutout the rest of the way. When the Spartans lose, they often lose badly, so another fast start could make a difference for Notre Dame. 

Saturday’s game proved that Michigan State, if not pressured quickly, can be a very difficult out. The Spartans picked up the opening goal and battled the Irish to a 1-1 tie and shootout win. Graduate student goalkeeper Dylan St. Cyr starred in earning the extra point, denying 39 of 40 shots faced. Though he started the campaign at a magnificent pace (.934 save percentage through 15 games), the Quinnipiac University transfer has slumped as of late. His save percentage has flipped to .886 since early December, and he was yanked early twice in January. Time is running out for St. Cyr to get hot again, and there is no better time to do it than against Notre Dame, his other former team.

Promise on the power-play

For most of the season, Notre Dame’s power-play has struggled to generate momentum. However, the Irish struck gold on the man-advantage last weekend. After posting two power-play goals at Penn State, Notre Dame burned Wisconsin for five in 12 attempts.

The recent success has helped the Irish set the tone early in games. They have scored four first period power-play goals in the last three games, including two in Friday’s 5-3 win. Different personnel have gotten the job done as well. Eight separate players have accounted for Notre Dame’s last eight power-play goals dating back to Jan.13. The Irish will look to keep thriving against a Michigan State penalty kill unit which has surrendered 11 goals in the last nine games.

Team notes

Notre Dame’s most potent weapon continues to reside between the pipes. Goaltender Ryan Bischel has played to a .949 save percentage over his last four games, catapulting himself into a Hobey Baker Award nomination. He leads the nation in saves (879 by a wide margin), and his .928 save percentage paces the Big Ten.

In front of him, a few especially reliable offensive weapons have emerged from the woodwork. Junior forward Ryder Rolston and graduate student forward Chayse Primeau have each registered five points over the last two weekends. With 20 and 18 points, respectively, they sit in the top three of Notre Dame’s points list alongside senior forward Trevor Janicke. Senior defenseman Nick Leivermann (16 points) also made an instant impact upon return from injury, collecting three assists against Wisconsin.

Though Michigan State has one Hobey nominee (Dylan St. Cyr) to Notre Dame’s three, the Spartans’ top forward line cannot be overlooked. Freshmen Karsen Dorwart, Daniel Russell, and senior Jagger Joshua are among MSU’s top four point scorers. Even in Sparty’s 6-3 loss to Minnesota on Saturday, the three combined for five points. Joshua has been especially dangerous, leading the team with 11 goals, five power-play goals, and two hat tricks. Fifth year defenseman Cole Krygier has also displayed a high capacity for offense. His nine goals are the most scored by an MSU defenseman since 2012-13 (Torey Krug).

Notre Dame and Michigan State will drop the puck at 7 p.m. ET on Friday and 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. Friday’s game will be available on Big Ten Network Plus, while Saturday’s contest will be aired on Big Ten Network, and both will be on the Notre Dame Radio Network.

The Irish hold an all-time record of 57-66-16 against MSU, with a 23-37-5 mark in East Lansing. Both teams will play two additional regular season series following this weekend. Notre Dame will host Ohio State, take a week off, then visit Michigan. The Spartans host the Wolverines before hitting the road for Wisconsin and concluding the season on a bye week.

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