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With the net all his, Bischel leads the Irish in 2023

| Friday, March 3, 2023

Since Notre Dame hockey ended its 2021-22 season in Albany, the year of Ryan Bischel has taken hold. Through patience and relentless work, the goaltender has transformed from a platoon player into a household name. Having just concluded one of the greatest netminding regular seasons in Irish history, Bischel has the chance to lead the Irish on a deep playoff run beginning this weekend. The journey began with three words from head coach Jeff Jackson last offseason: it’s your net.

“That was a big thing for me. It definitely gave me some motivation to have a big summer in the weight room,” Bischel said. “I feel like I was more prepared this year than going into any other year.”

It’s easy to forget that Bischel was never supposed to be in South Bend. He committed to Clarkson University as a high school junior, not wavering for three years. However, after signing his national letter of intent and making an official visit to Potsdam, something didn’t sit right with him. Upon revealing his change of plans to Clarkson’s staff, Bischel moved away from the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Through current Irish associate head coach Paul Pooley, he found Notre Dame.

Although he fell in love with everything the program had to offer, Bischel had plenty of waiting to do at Notre Dame. As a freshman, he sat behind star goaltender Cale Morris, who finished his time in South Bend with a stellar .931 save percentage. Then, after initially splitting time with Dylan St. Cyr in 2020-21, a mid-season concussion set him back. Last season could have been his time with St. Cyr’s transfer to Quinnipiac. But graduate transfer Matthew Galajda swooped in from Cornell. Even so, Bischel kept his head up and showed promise with a .924 save percentage in 2021-22.

“With every goalie that’s been here, I’ve taken little pieces from each of their games and tried to find ways to put those pieces into my own,” he said. “I’ve tried to be a student of the game for sure.”

For example, take Dylan St. Cyr, who will oppose Bischel between Michigan State’s pipes this weekend. While their Irish careers overlapped, Bischel focused on learning from what St. Cyr does best: playing the puck. On or off the ice, the two never shied away from taking the time to learn and grow together.

Fast-forwarding to this season, Bischel has benefited from another man with goaltending expertise: his head coach. Already having developed four different goalies into Frozen Four-caliber players, Jackson is everything Bischel could ask for. 

“I think he’s taught me a lot about how to understand systems,” Bischel said. “Being prepared for a different team, having the knowledge of what their systems are gonna look like and what their threats are gonna be offensively — that’s been a big deal.”

Just as valuable has been Bischel’s mental preparation. Jackson has played a role in that aspect as well, offering up books to help the netminder keep his mind in top shape. In their conversations, playing with swagger under pressure has surfaced quite frequently. Sure enough, that’s exactly what Bischel needed to stop 80 of 84 shots and earn home playoff ice in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at No. 4 Michigan last weekend. 

“For me [swagger] is about having that inner confidence so that everyone can see it. They can see your confidence without you being cocky,” Jackson said. “Great goalies that I’ve had in my coaching career have all had that, and I thought Ryan was lacking that at first.”

Remember how Clarkson’s coaching staff wished not to face Bischel on another ECAC team? Instead, he is now puzzling the Big Ten, a conference with six of its seven teams ranked. His NCAA-best 1,095 saves have helped him reach the Mike Richter Award List and earn a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award nomination. The awards honor the country’s best goaltender and overall player, respectively.

Bischel admitted that he has given up on trying to understand the PairWise rankings that predict Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament chances. However, he has turned in his best performances in his team’s biggest games. Over the last four contests, none of which the Irish have lost, Bischel has posted a spectacular .960 save percentage.

“Our backs were against the wall the last couple weekends, and it seems like when we’re in that position we find another gear and we find a way to win,” Bischel said. “It’s been a commitment to doing the little things 100 percent.”

Bischel’s week has served as a microcosm of the workload he has accepted as Notre Dame’s starting puck-stopper. After making 48 saves Saturday in Ann Arbor, he returned to campus to take a fixed-income securities exam Monday morning. Entering the postseason, secure may be the best word to describe how Irish fans feel with Bischel in net. With his efforts, Notre Dame is playing better than it has all year. And, the team is ready for more.

“We’ve had a roller coaster of a year, and I think our team has been put in a lot of tough environments,” Bischel said. “Obviously, the Big Ten’s been pretty tight this year, so I think we’re more battle-tested than a lot of other teams in the country, and that gives us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.”

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About Tyler Reidy

Tyler is a sophomore who serves as an Associate Sports Editor at The Observer. Hailing from Omaha, Nebraska, and Keough Hall, he enjoys road trips, all things collegiate athletics and Kansas City barbecue. Reach out here or @TylerJReidy on Twitter!

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