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Irish hockey skates past Michigan State, 5-0

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team opened Big 10 conference play with a 5-0 win over the visiting Michigan State Spartans Friday night. The Irish were speedy and opportunistic all night, getting goals from five different scorers in the win.

Goaltender Ryan Bischel was again solid for Notre Dame, kicking out all 30 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. With the loss, Michigan State drops to 4-3-0 on the season, despite the best efforts of former Irish netminder and current Spartan graduate student goalie Dylan St. Cyr, who made 28 saves in his return to Compton Family Ice Arena.

In the first, Michigan State played well, steadily dictating the play and often attacking the Notre Dame blue line on the rush, though they were not able to generate many chances. Despite giving up 11 shots, the Irish held the Spartans to the perimeter and allowed very few high-quality opportunities between the face-off circles.

Despite not controlling play, Notre Dame was opportunistic on the chances it generated in the period. After killing off a penalty taken by senior captain Nick Leivermann, the Irish struck for their first goal of the night. Breaking out of their own end after the penalty-kill, junior forward Ryder Rolston found sophomore Justin Janicke breaking for the net on a three-on-two. Rolston threaded the needle with the pass perfectly across the seam, and with a quick tap of his stick, Janicke deposited the puck into the wide-open goal. It was Janicke’s second of the season, and gave Notre Dame the lead eight minutes into the contest. 

Later, as the end of the period loomed, Rolston found himself again making a break for the net on a three-on-two. With more speed down the right side of the ice, Rolston this time elected to shoot. With a brisk snapshot, Rolston beat his former teammate and freshman-year roommate St. Cyr’s high glove to give the Irish a 2-0 lead heading to the locker room.

Notre Dame got to work quickly in the second period, playing some of their best hockey of the game to start the frame. Capitalizing off a Michigan State turnover, the Irish applied pressure until senior captain Nick Leivermann found the back of the net with a snapshot from the perimeter of the face-off circle. Hunter Strand garnered an assist for his tremendous vision to see Leivermann pinching in from the point, as he zipped a diagonal pass across the slot to set up the goal. Chase Blakmun also added an assist, and Notre Dame led 3-0.

The Irish continued to pressure after the Leivermann goal, keeping St. Cyr busy with shots from any and all angles. As Michigan State weathered the storm, they caught a break when, at a stoppage midway through the period, the referees decided to review a hit laid by Notre Dame’s Drew Bavaro. Upon review, they determined Bavaro made illegal head contact with a Spartan player and assessed him a five-minute major penalty. 

With an opportunity to get back in the game, Michigan State was slow getting set up on the power-play, and by the time they did, it was close to expiring. Nonetheless, Michigan State senior forward Jagger Joshua and freshman forward Daniel Russell both got chances in a netmouth scrabble. This was Michigan State’s most threatening moment on offense, but in the end, the Irish managed to kill the penalty and the period ended with Notre Dame still in the lead 3-0.

The Irish added icing to the cake in the third, as they potted two more goals, one from graduate student forward Chayse Primeau and another from Strand. Primeau’s goal came in transition on yet another odd-man rush, while Strand finished off a nice feed from sophomore defenseman Ryan Helliwell on the power-play.

In the stat column, Rolston and Primeau paced the Irish, each picking up three points. Playing on the same line, the two players seemed to be clicking all night and showed great chemistry with and without the puck

“It was evident tonight, and this week in practice we got a feel for it, too,” Rolston said. “We were excited to play together tonight, and good things happened.”

It was the second straight shutout on home ice for Bischel, who continues to find his rhythm between the pipes for the Irish. Bischel now has shutouts in two of his last three games, and has started in every game so far this season.

In his return to Compton Family Ice Arena, St. Cyr played well in the net for Michigan State, despite the five goals Notre Dame scored. On at least two of the goals, St. Cyr had no chance of making a save due to Notre Dame’s quick puck movement in transition. In addition, Spartan freshman phenomenons Karsen Dowart (6 points this season) and Daniel Russell (team-leading 9 points this season) both showed flashes of brilliance in this game, but ultimately were unable to break through.

The Spartans and Irish will wrap up the two-game weekend series tomorrow night. The puck drops at 6 p.m.

Coach’s comments

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson made some line changes this week after getting shut out 4-0 last Saturday at Western Michigan. In particular, senior Solag Bakich moved up to form a line with Primeau and Rolston, while senior Jesse Lansdell moved onto a line with Strand and graduate student Jack Adams. All this in an effort to generate more consistent offense

“Part of the reason we made the change is that we hadn’t been scoring 5-on-5 very consistently, and needed to see if we could come up with something different that might help us” Jackson said.

Notre Dame continues to refine their game to achieve an elite level of play consistently. The lineup changes had to due with finding more consistent 5-on-5 offense, but consistency is the standard for success in NCAA hockey, and the Irish continue to strive for it.

Friday notes from out-of-town

@ No. 14 Harvard 5, Dartmouth 2. Dartmouth took a 2-0 first period lead in this one, but Harvard scored 5 consecutive goals after the first intermission. Los Angeles Kings prospect Alex Laferriere had two of them.

@ Maine 2, No. 15 Northeastern 2 (Maine wins shootout). The Black Bears under second-year head coach Ben Barr are proving to have tough luck at home. They beat Quinnipiac 4-0 last week in the first game of a weekend set, and came back from 2-0 down in the third in this one.

@ No. 18 UMass Lowell 2, No. 9 Boston University 1. These two figure to be around the top of a very strong-looking Hockey East conference by the end of the year. All the scoring happened in the second period of this game, with the Riverhawk goals coming from Ben Meehan and Matt Crasa for the win. Domenick Fensore scored for BU.

No. 3 Denver 4 @ Miami 0. Carter Mazur had a natural hat trick in the third period for Denver as the Pioneers tamed Miami and red-hot goaltender Ludvig Persson on the road.

@ No. 11 Ohio State 6, No. 1 Minnesota 0. The Buckeyes are 7-1-1 to start the season, and if they hadn’t caught your attention yet, they certainly will have now. At one point, OSU led 6-2, and had to stave off a late Minnesota attack.

Other notable scores: No. 16 Penn State 2 @ Wisconsin 1; @ No. 4 Michigan 5, No. 17 Western Michigan 4; @ No. 19 Minnesota Duluth 3, No. 20 Cornell 2; @ Bemidiji State 3, No. 2 St. Cloud State 1; Alaska Fairbanks 2 @ Northern Michigan 1.

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Irish prepare to meet Spartans in Big Ten opener

Throughout the first month of the season, Fighting Irish hockey has become well-acquainted with The Great Lakes State. Having already squared off with Northern Michigan and Western Michigan, Notre Dame now turns its attention to the Michigan State Spartans. This weekend’s series in South Bend will usher in Big Ten action, marking the first of twelve series on both teams’ conference slates. The matchup will also serve as a crucial segue for the 12th-ranked Irish, whose seven games to follow are against teams rated above them.

Michigan State: From the Ground Up

After losing 15 out of 16 games to end the 2021-22 season, the Spartans are off to a promising start. Under head coach Adam Nightingale, they enter with a 4-2-0 record — all against unranked opponents. The Spartans split a home-and-away series with Bowling Green to open the campaign, then split with UMass-Lowell and swept Long Island on home ice. Last weekend, MSU dominated both ends of the two-game series, handling the Sharks 3-1 on Friday and 8-4 on Saturday. Defense was the story of game one, as the Spartans limited LIU to just 15 shots on goal. Saturday saw Michigan State crank out eight goals for the first time in nine years, pummeling the visitors with 50 shots on goal. Senior forward Jagger Joshua registered his first career hat trick, and the Spartan power play scored four times in seven opportunities. On the weekend, seven of MSU’s eleven goal-contributors were first-time scorers.

In a limited sample size, Michigan State’s offense is clicking. The Spartans, on average, are outshooting opponents 37.7 to 23.3, and outscoring them 3.3 to 2.5. They have racked up at least 39 shots on goal in four of six games, and have yet to allow more than 30 shots on goal in a game. MSU’s top forward line consists of two freshmen in addition to Joshua, but the newcomers have been magnificent in adjusting to the college game. Daniel Russell leads the team with nine points, while Karsen Dorwart has already amassed five assists. All six players on their second and third forward lines have over 60 games of collegiate experience, while MSU’s top three defensemen have combined to play 397 NCAA games. 

Between the pipes, graduate student Dylan St. Cyr is an undersized, yet effective goaltender. He stands at just 5-foot-8, but is coming off a spectacular season at Quinnipiac, in which he posted a .936 save percentage and 1.16 goals against average. St. Cyr is also no stranger to Compton Family Ice Arena. He started 30 games for the Fighting Irish between 2017 and 2021. This Spartans team is much improved from last year’s debacle, already producing noticeably better results in the non-conference schedule. Their combination of youthful skill and well-documented experience should serve them well in South Bend and beyond.

Notre Dame: A Need for Consistency

Notre Dame’s opponents between November 4-23 are ranked, on average, sixth in the country. The Irish (3-2-1) cannot expect to easily create rhythm against the big dogs, so the time is now for them to build some serious momentum. They started the year with uncertainty, as they lost handily to third-ranked Denver and needed a wild comeback to tie Air Force, but then rattled off three straight wins over Northern Michigan and Western Michigan. The thrill of Friday’s 2-0 defeat of the 17th-ranked Broncos quickly turned sour in a rough, 4-0 loss on Saturday. Western Michigan outshot the Irish 38-22 in game two, peppering the visitors with 29 shots on goal through two periods. Though Notre Dame has struggled on the road (0-2-1), they are still a perfect 3-0-0 in South Bend, favoring a resurgent effort this weekend.

One season has made quite the difference for the Irish penalty kill. After posting one of the best kill percentages in college hockey last year, Notre Dame has survived just 74.1 percent of opposing power plays. In the 4-0 loss to WMU, the Irish asked for trouble by making four trips to the penalty box before receiving a single man advantage. Junior forward Ryder Rolston’s three goals and six points lead the team, and his 28 shots are twice the amount of the next-highest shooter. Graduate student forward Chayse Primeau has arrived from Omaha on a mission, tallying five points and winning an impressive 59.3 percent of face-offs. Should their production carry into conference play, Notre Dame will be well-prepared to shine in big games.

On the defensive end, junior Drew Bavaro has stepped up with four assists, while sophomore Ryan Helliwell has been reliable with a team-best +5 plus-minus. Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel’s performance will make for an intriguing matchup in net. Bischel pitched a shutout last Friday and collected 31 saves in Saturday’s loss, bringing his season save percentage to a fine .913 mark. 

Series History and Statistics 

Notre Dame and Michigan State have appeared in 36 combined national tournaments and 13 Frozen Fours. Since Notre Dame joined the Big Ten prior to the 2017-18 season, the Irish lead the series 13-5 with four ties. However, Michigan State has tightened up the margin over the last three seasons, as Notre Dame is just 5-4-4 against the Spartans during that time frame. Last year, the teams split the South Bend leg before Notre Dame earned a sweep in East Lansing. After this weekend’s bout, the two will meet again at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 3 and 4.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu

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Irish are ‘hungry’ for 2022 season

Notre Dame hockey takes to the ice to start their official season on Friday Oct. 7 against defending National Champion Denver at 9 p.m., and then Air Force at 8 p.m. the next day. The two games are part of the Ice Breaker Tournament, an invitational tournament that invites four of the country’s best to start the collegiate season.

The matchup between Denver and Notre Dame happened almost by accident, according to head coach Jeff Jackson.

“We owed Air Force to go out there, and [head coach] Frank Serratore asked me if, in lieu of us coming out there to play them two games, would we play in the Ice Breaker, so I said yes. At the time a couple of years ago, when I made that agreement with them when they came in here for two, I did not realize we’d be playing Denver the first night, nor did I realize that Denver would be the reigning national champs.”

The two games will serve as a measuring stick for the Irish, who in national pre-season polling ranked 11th in the country, behind St. Cloud State and ahead of Harvard.

The team that Notre Dame is bringing back this year shares some similarities to the squad that made the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, but Jackson has noticed some key differences.

“There are some similarities to last year’s team, but this group so far…they go hard in practice, they are an impressive group…We are bigger than I remember us and just as fast.”

The speed and size are not the only pieces Jackson noticed. This year’s team features a hunger that last year’s team did not.

“Any time you don’t get to the Frozen Four or win a championship, yeah, there should be some hunger. They were close. That team was very close to getting to the Frozen Four, and anytime you get there, anything is possible. And that core of that team is back.”

The hunger that Jackson noticed in his team came from the squad’s shortcomings in the NCAA Regional Finals last year. After Notre Dame beat North Dakota in OT 2-1, the team faced Minnesota State in the Regional Finals. The Irish ultimately came up short against the Mavericks in a hard-fought game, with the Mavericks advanced to the Frozen Four National Championship game, where they then lost to Denver.

Coach Jackson praised the team’s overall depth, highlighting some new defensive players who would bolster the team’s defense.

One such player was Ben Brinkman, a grad student defensman who transferred from Minnesota to play for the Irish. Brinkman, drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2019, was a cornerstone of the Gophers’ defense, playing in 140 games during his time at Minnesota.  

The other transfer mentioned, junior Drew Bavaro, transferred from Bentley. Bavaro was a huge part of the Bentley offense, boasting nine goals and leading the team in assists with 27 points.

Jackson also highlighted a few returning core defensive players. The first mentioned was Grad Student Nick Leiverman, who played in 34 games, earning 27 points and a second team-best plus/minus of 16.

The next player mentioned was junior Zach Plucinski. While Plucinski may not have Bavaro or Leiverman’s statistical resume, he played in 32 games for the Irish last season.

The last player mentioned by Jackson was sophomore Jake Boltmann, who was one of only six Irish players to play in 40 games last season.  

The talented roster has ensured that there will be a deep bench for the Irish, and according to Jackson, it might lead to some competition.

“There’s going to be a fight for playing time back there because we actually have nine defensemen, and I think pretty much all of them can play.”

Production Replacement

Diving into the numbers from last season, the Irish have much to replace from last year’s teams. The players who graduated from ND last year accounted for 35.2% (45) of the goals scored by the team. The same was true for assists; the Irish have lost 34.2% (79) assists from last season’s roster. That adds to a loss of 3.34 points per game, a dramatic production loss.

The Irish also lost a lot of clutch play after graduation. Of the 28 game-winning goals the Irish had last season, the seniors scored nine.

The Irish losses will also impact the special team’s play. Last year’s class accounted for 28% of the Irish power-play goals. That is not great for a team that ranked 31st in the power play last season with a 19.1% conversion rate. Short-handed goals took the biggest hit of all; the Irish are returning a total of 0 short-handed goals from last season.

Where will the replacement production come from? Maybe grad transfers Ben Brinkman, Jackson Pierson and Chayse Priemau. Add in Drew Bavaro for good measure.

Pierson, Primeau and Bavaro contributed power-play goals on their teams last year, and could easily see some minutes on the power-play unity. And Pierson and Bavaro both had short-handed goals last season, showing they can spend some time on the kill.

Combining the stats of the four transfer students, they had 31 combined goals and 51 assists for a total of 82 points. That totals out to 2.45 points per game, which is not the 3.34 points per game lost, but it certainly gets the Irish closer.

Beyond the general increases in productivity that one would expect from classes progressing, junior forward Landon Slaggert, preseason first-team all BigTen, and Nick Leivermann should be two major forces for the Irish.

Where the Irish fall

In a Big Ten pre-season Coaches poll, the favorite to win the conference were the Minnesota Golden Gophers, with Notre Dame finishing in second. Minnesota is an incredibly talented hockey team with national championship potential. The Golden Gophers were just one of five teams to earn votes in the USCHO pre-season rankings and finished second overall, just behind the Denver Pioneers. While not a certainty, it feels incredibly likely that Minnesota should win the conference regular season title.

Behind them should be Michigan. Michigan was CHN’s number one overall team last season, and while they did not win the title, the Wolverines are bringing back a solid team that can compete with Minnesota, but should finish in second place.

Notre Dame has the potential to break into the top two, but it seems more likely that the Irish will finish in third.

Ohio State, who finished just five points behind Notre Dame in the standings last year, should continue to be a tough competitor. The Buckeyes should be step for step with the Irish competing for third behind the goaltending of Jakub Dobes.

Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are the conference’s dark horses, all with potential but not immediate threats to the Irish.

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@nd.edu.