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Irish top Spartans in game one

| Saturday, March 4, 2023

Game one of the Big Ten first-round series between Michigan State and Notre Dame arrived as advertised on Friday night. After 60 minutes of tight-checking, physical hockey at sold-out Compton Family Ice Arena, the Irish came out on top, winning 1-0 over the visiting Spartans.

As expected, the game was more about heroic defense than high-powered offense. By its end, junior forward Grant Silianoff‘s tally at 16:13 of the second period held up as the only goal. Notre Dame graduate student netminder Ryan Bischel finished with 36 saves in the win, while Michigan State goaltender Dylan St. Cyr had 20 stops in the loss.

“Our guys gritted it out, it wasn’t an easy win,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said postgame. “We got great goaltending again.”

The game was a stalemate deep into the second period. There was no scoring, and high-danger opportunities were few and far between. Shots on goal were 10-9 in favor of Michigan State after the first.

As the second period dragged on, the Irish started to build pressure in the Michigan State zone. With less than four minutes to play, Notre Dame had pinned the Spartan top line of Jagger Joshua, Karsen Dorwart and Daniel Russell in their own zone. The trio were tiring quickly. As the Irish made a line change, Silianoff hopped over the boards. He made a play on the puck in the corner and went straight to the front of the net, eventually making a 360-degree spin to pot a rebound behind St. Cyr.

“I think one of the big things for us was getting in front of the net, getting in front of the goalie’s eyes, so I just went and planted right there,” Silianoff said. “The puck came and I just kinda whacked at it.”

Silianoff’s pirouette put the Irish up 1-0 heading into the third period. His third goal of the season was another example of Notre Dame’s depth stepping up to the task. The Irish have lost star scorer junior right winger Ryder Rolston, graduate student center Jackson Pierson and freshman Niko Jovanovic to injury in recent weeks. Nonetheless, they continue to find ways to win, going 3-0-2 in their last five games.

“I’ve mentioned it before, we’ve got guys out of the lineup and other guys have had to step up,” Jackson said. “I think Hunter Strand has stepped up, and Silianoff has stepped up.”

The resilience of the team was especially on display in the third period. As Michigan State looked for the game-tying goal, they outshot Notre Dame 18-2 in the final 20 minutes. Bischel, undoubtedly Notre Dame’s most valuable player this season, stopped everything that came his way.

“We wouldn’t be even in the position to move forward without him,” Jackson said of his goaltender. 

The shutout performance was the senior netminder’s fifth of the season and earned him first-rate honors after the game. Despite that, he was quick to credit the effort of his defense in front of him.

“I think our D-corps has taken a huge step, not turning pucks over as much in the D-zone and just going north with it has made a huge difference, and I know they’re doing a great job of boxing their guys out,” Bischel said. “Michigan State’s big point of emphasis for their offense is having a good net-front presence, and I think our D have done a good job of letting me see the puck, so it kind of makes it easier.”

The Irish bent, but they did not break in the final frame. They did flirt with danger a few times, however. Russell had a chance all alone in front of the net midway through the period but rang his backhand shot off the crossbar. The Spartans also had two late power-plays and pulled St. Cyr for the extra attacker as the clock wound down. But nothing the Spartans did was enough to break through on Friday night.

Notre Dame will go for the sweep of the best-of-three series tomorrow afternoon. Should they secure the win in game two, the Irish would propel themselves into the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and move into a strong position for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. For Michigan State, tomorrow’s game is a must-win. The Spartans would drop below .500 with a series loss, making them ineligible for the NCAA tournament despite being on the bubble for an at-large bid.

The puck drops on a crucial game two at 4:30 p.m. The game is available to watch on FS2.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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