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Notre Dame begins conference play at Penn State

| Thursday, November 2, 2023

Meghan Lange | The Observer
Senior forward Landon Slaggert skates during Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State at Compton Family Ice Arena on March 3.

Don’t look now, but Notre Dame hockey’s upcoming schedule appears daunting.

As the only team in the Big Ten not ranked in the top 20 of the latest USCHO.com poll, the Irish are on the precipice of taking up a gauntlet. Between now and Christmas, Notre Dame will face off in 11 games against six consecutive ranked opponents, five of which are B1G foes. 

The challenge of conference play begins this weekend when the Irish travel to State College, Pennsylvania, for a two-game series against No. 17 Penn State.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said after last Friday’s win over Mercyhurst. “It’s going to be a battle, every weekend and every game. It’s been like that all along [in the B1G], but now it’s even going to be probably more intense.” 

Notre Dame cannot control the strength of their conference opponents, but it can control its own play, which is trending up at the moment. The Irish are looking to build momentum after completing a sweep of Mercyhurst on Friday night. Notre Dame scored a 4-3 overtime victory over the Lakers on Thursday before graduate student goaltender Ryan Bischel posted a 5-0 shutout for the Irish in the series finale.

If there’s one area in which Notre Dame hopes to grow this weekend, it’s in the consistency of that strong play. The Irish outshot Mercyhurst 54-27 on Thursday and 37-33 on Friday. Not always in hockey do the shot totals indicate the strength of a team’s play. But in this series, they did, as Notre Dame looked even more dominant on Thursday than in portions of Friday’s game, despite the score.

“I’d just like to see more consistency,” Jackson said in a press conference Wednesday. “Our young guys are learning how to play college hockey back to back, and I think, if anything, we’ve had a drop-off in the second night of a two-game series. For me, I think a big part of that is just gaining experience and confidence playing in back-to-back situations.”

The Irish are still waiting for a number of snakebitten skaters to break out this season. While senior forward and team captain Landon Slaggert has gotten off to a blazing-hot start — his seven goals in seven games are tied for second nationally — no other Notre Dame player has more than two goals. Graduate student forward Trevor Janicke came through with his first of the year in Thursday’s win, and it would be a major boost for the Irish if some of his fellow upperclassmen could do the same this weekend.

“All-in-all, I’ve been pretty pleased with the older guys,” Jackson said. “It’s just I’d like to hope we’ll get more production out of them from an offensive perspective as time goes on.”

In the Nittany Lions, Notre Dame will face a team searching for a rebound. Everything seemed to be coming up positive for Penn State to start the season, as they got off to a perfect 4-0-0 start. Lately, though, the Nittany Lions have dropped two of their last three games, allowing six goals in both losses.

Last Friday night, Penn State allowed a series sweep to slip through their fingers in a 6-5 loss to Alaska Anchorage on home ice. Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky called his team out in the postgame, saying that the Nittany Lions played “dishonest” and were “cheating [the game],” according to the Daily Collegian.

More specifically, the issue seems to have been players taking extensive shifts.

“We were taking long shifts,” Nittany Lions senior forward Christian Sarlo told the Collegian. “Not changing in the right spots, which might not seem important in the moment, but as it stacks up as the game goes on, you start to lose more battles.”

Despite Penn State’s recent difficulties, Notre Dame knows they will face a unique challenge against the Nittany Lions. No other team in college hockey plays quite like Penn State, who shoots from anywhere and everywhere.

“Their game doesn’t change. [Penn State head coach] Guy [Gadowsky], his teams play for shot volume,” Jackson said. “They’re a good transition team. They shoot the puck from every angle everywhere on the ice, and their game’s about getting the rebounds and puck recoveries and getting second and third-shot opportunities. And that’s where they become really challenging.”

In addition, Notre Dame may have to handle Penn State’s chaos while short-staffed on defense. Senior defenseman Jake Boltmann and sophomore defenseman Michael Mastrodomenico were held out of last week’s series against Mercyhurst. Both are day-to-day, and Jackson told the media that the team will likely not know until Thursday afternoon whether either can travel to Penn State.

The weekend series begins Saturday night, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m. The two teams will take the ice again Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

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