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Irish lose and draw to open hockey season

This weekend the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team traveled to Colorado to play a pair of local teams in the Ice Breaker Tournament. In Friday’s matchup, the Irish squared off against the Denver Pioneers, a program with a longstanding hockey tradition. The Pioneers are the defending national champions and entered the season ranked No. 1. It was a big test for the Irish at the very beginning of the year, playing a quality team on the road. 

In the first period, the Pioneers pressured the puck, outshooting the eleventh-ranked Irish 11-3. Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel kept the score clean until late in the period, when the Pioneers power play netted a goal. 12 minutes into the second period, the Pioneers again found the net on the power play. Then, Notre Dame went on the power play. The Irish passed the puck around the zone, eventually finding junior forward Ryder Rolston just beyond the faceoff circle for a one-time goal to cut the lead in half. Denver got another goal before the second period ended to make the score 3-1 at the second intermission.

In the third period, Notre Dame continued to fight. They went on the offensive, which eventually led to a wraparound goal by graduate student defenseman Chase Blackmun off of a rebound to make the score 3-2. With about 6 minutes left, Notre Dame stole the puck off of a Denver power play and had a breakaway chance to tie the game. Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona stepped up to the moment, making a key save. A few minutes later, the Pioneers added to their lead courtesy of a McKade Webster goal. After Notre Dame pulled their goalie the Pioneers added an empty-netter, making the final score a deceiving 5-2. The Irish showed in this game that they can compete with anyone in the country, but there’s room for improvement if they hope to hunt down a national championship this season. 

In the second game, Notre Dame squared off against the Air Force Academy, another team accustomed to the challenges that high altitude brings. Air Force received votes but ended up unranked in the first poll. Air Force got the first points on the board on a power play, and the Irish were unable to find the net in 11 shots in the first period. In the second period, Air Force netted two more, expanding the lead to three goals. The Irish finally found the net with 9:15 left to play in the second period, with junior defenseman Zach Plucinski hitting from the hash. Going into the third period, the Irish were staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start. However, they rescued the result via a last-gasp rally. 

Senior forward Solag Bakich scored off of a rebound six minutes into the period. His classmate, Trevor Janicke, scored soon after on a power play goal after an Air Force penalty to trim the deficit to one. Air Force responded to double the lead shortly after, but the Irish continued to battle. Sophomore defenseman Jake Boltmann scored with just over eight minutes left and Rolston scored the equalizer with 72 seconds left in the contest to bring it to overtime. No one scored in the overtime period and the Falcons won the shootout 2-1. Officially, the result goes down as a tie. 

The Irish challenged themselves early in the year, going on the road to play two quality teams in high altitude. Although the results were surely not what the Irish were hoping for, these two games provided points of emphasis for the coaching staff in the upcoming weeks before conference play. Bischel is still rounding into form after splitting time in the net for portions of last season. The Irish penalty kill was near the top of the rankings last season and if the Irish want to achieve the goals they have set for this year, they’ll have to get quality play from their special teams. Notre Dame is back in action on Friday and Sunday, playing Northern Michigan at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney2@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.

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Gabe Perreault scores twice as NTDP tops Notre Dame men’s hockey team

The No. 8/9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s ice hockey team dropped its lone preseason scrimmage to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) under-18 team by a 5-3 score Sunday night. In a high-paced, back-and-forth contest, the NTDP capitalized twice on five power play opportunities to earn an edge against the Irish. 

Coming off of a 4-3 win on the road at Michigan State on Saturday night, the NTDP squad found themselves on their heels early. Less than a minute into the opening frame, Irish senior forward Trevor Janicke began an offensive cycle in the right corner, circling and leaving the puck for new teammate Jackson Pierson, a graduate student transfer from the University of New Hampshire. Pierson then circled in the corner himself and zipped a pass back to the right point for sophomore defenseman and Edina, Minnesota, native Jake Boltmann. Boltmann expertly walked the blue line and fired a shot off of the stars-and-stripes decorated pads of NTDP goaltender Carsen Mussen. The rebound came off the right pad quickly and right onto the stick of junior Ryder Rolston, who snapped the puck just between the right arm of the goalie and the post to give the Irish an early 1-0 lead. 

Notre Dame’s lead, though, was short-lived. After Irish defenseman Charlie Blackmun was given a 5-major penalty for a hit from behind, Notre Dame was forced to their first of 5 penalty kills this evening. In what would be a theme of the game for Notre Dame, the Irish penalty kill was stout until the very final moments of Blackmun’s penalty but could not finish the kill. As the penalty was winding down, the NTDP’s Alex Weiermair made an errant zone entry pass that teammate Oliver Moore picked up off the half wall. The Minnesota-committed Moore swooped in behind the goal and made a centering pass that was tipped onto the stick of Austin Burnevik in the slot, who snapped it past Irish senior goaltender Ryan Bischel to tie the game.

The first-period scoring was not done yet, though. Both teams traded line rushes until Notre Dame struck gold on one of theirs. In a beautiful sequence, graduate student captain Nick Leivermann picked up the puck on his own blue line and spearheaded the attack. Backing up the NTDP defense, he hit the offensive blue line and dished to sophomore forward Tyler Carpenter on the left flank, who rifled the puck again between the post and the right arm of Mussen to put Notre Dame up 2-1.

 But with Leivermann in the box for an unwise and unnecessary interference penalty, NTDP was able to turn the tide late in the first. Just after the penalty to Leivermann expired, Boston College commit Ryan Leonard rushed the puck in behind the Notre Dame net. He absorbed a hard hit that sent him sailing into the corner boards, but was nonetheless able to find Gabe Perreault with a pass. Perreault rounded the cage and tucked a wraparound inside the right post, sneaking it just barely past the outstretched pad of Bischel. With thirty seconds remaining in the first, the NTDP had tied the game again.

The score remained tied after two periods as well, with each team adding goals in the second. Once more, it was Notre Dame skating well to start the period. Early on in the frame, the NTDP turned the puck over in the Irish zone, and Notre Dame’s Hunter Strand and Jack Adams found themselves on a two-on-one from their own blue line. Strand carried the puck on the left, fed a flat pass to Adams on the right, who attempted the one-timer, but fanned on the puck. 

That was not the end of the story, however, for Adams. As Notre Dame continued to carry the play, Adams found himself in another two-on-one, this time with sophomore Justin Janicke carrying the puck on his left. Adams, a 6’6 graduate student forward from Boxford, Massachusetts, did not miss the mark on his second opportunity. He took the crisp pass from Janicke on his forehand, switched to his backhand, cut to the far post and shoveled the puck past the outstretched leg of Mussen to score. 

With Notre Dame in the lead 3-2, the NTDP would again level the game late in the period. After a Notre Dame powerplay during which the Irish could not manage a shot, and struggled at times to gain the offensive blue line, the NTDP’s Leonard helped set up fellow BC commit Will Vote to level the score. Leonard had just stepped out of the penalty box when he made a pass to the onrushing Oliver Moore, who left a drop pass at the left face-off circle for Vote. Vote snapped a shot that seemed to allude Bischel, beating him five-hole to bring the score to 3-3.

Then early in the third, the NTDP struck with the decisive game-winner. Once more, it was Perreault who scored for the NTDP, and once more the goal came on the power play. With junior defender Zach Plucinski in the box for indirect contact to the head of an NTDP player, another Boston College commit, Will Smith, stepped in across the Notre Dame blue line on the right side of the zone. Smith fired a laser-beam cross-ice pass to Perreault at the face-off circle, who beat Bischel high and to the glove side with an impressive snapshot. Perreault’s second goal gave the NTDP their first and only lead of the hockey game, in the game’s 41st minute. 

That lead was all the NTDP would need to beat Notre Dame on this night at Compton Family Ice Arena. There were times afterwards when it seemed like the Irish were going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at NTDP goaltender Carsen Mussen in order to tie the game. Indeed, the Irish attempted thirty shots in the third period. Twelve of those made it to goal, but most were blocked by NTDP skaters. The NTDP defense stood strong late in the game and did well to keep the Irish on the peripheries of their zone, away from rebounds and loose pucks in front of the net. 

Ryan Leonard, who played well for the NTDP and had already garnered two assists for his efforts, sealed the win for his team by scoring an empty net goal with just one second remaining in the game. When the final siren sounded at Compton, the scoreboard showed 5-3 in favor of the visitors. 

Notre Dame netminder Ryan Bischel, who had a strong .916 save percentage in 16  games played last year for the Irish, finished tonight with 26 saves on 30 shots. On the other end of the sheet, uncommitted goalie Carsen Mussen made 25 saves. The game’s leader in the stat column was certainly Gabriel Perreault, who displayed a good finish on his second goal and also led his team in shots on net. Perreault, whose father is former NHL veteran Yanic Perreault, is also uncommitted. 

The win continues the NTDP’s strong start to their season, as they are 6-0. The team will continue with their Kroger College Series at home next weekend as they host #20 Michigan Tech on Friday and Lake Superior State on Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, heads to Colorado next weekend to get their regular season officially underway at the IceBreaker tournament. The Irish take on the defending national champion and #1/1 Denver Pioneers in the opener on Friday at 9pm EST. 

Future Prospects

On a USNTDP team littered with prospects, three Irish commits laced up the skates tonight for the national team. Carter Slaggert, son of Notre Dame assistant coach Andy Slaggert and brother to current Irish forward Graham and former Irish forward Landon, roused a nice ovation from the crowd tonight when he was introduced with the NTDP starting lineup. Meanwhile, Maple Grove, Minnesota, native Danny Nelson centered the second line with Minnesota commit Oliver Moore and St. Cloud State commit Austin Burnevik. Nelson is one of the tallest and heaviest skaters on the NTDP roster, weighing in at 6’3, 203lb. River Forest, Illinois, native Paul Fischer, a third Notre Dame pledge, blocked two shots while playing top pair minutes on defense for the NTDP.

Discipline the Key

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was quick to point out in his post-game press conference that Notre Dame struggled tonight to stay out of the penalty box. On a night where the Irish were penalized 5 times, Jackson noted that the Irish are “not going to win games taking that many penalties.” Twice NTDP victimized the Notre Dame penalty kill, and they scored shortly after another powerplay ended. 

Denver Looms

The Irish begin their regular season Friday with not just any game, but a game against the defending national champions. Denver scrimmaged against the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) club hockey team on Saturday night and won big, 10-0. The Pioneers got goals from seven different scorers and a hat trick from sophomore Carter King. Although Denver will be without seven players who signed professional hockey contracts at the end of last season, they return 237 points, good for 5th in the nation in that department. The Pioneers will also be bolstered by Harvard transfer Casey Dornbach and Minnesota transfer Tristan Broz. 

When asked about the impending contest immediately after Sunday night’s game, coach Jackson said that he will be looking for his team to have better puck management, especially near the offensive blue line.

“When we started playing down lower in the offensive zone, we had a lot more success, and for me, that’s going to be the biggest key against Denver is that we do a good job managing the puck, and not put ourselves in positions where we are giving up transition opportunities,” he said.

The puck drops on the game and the 2022-23 regular season Friday at 9 p.m. EST. Notre Dame will then take on Air Force in the second half of the IceBreaker tournament on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.

Contact Ryan Murphy at rmurph22@nd.edu