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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame picks up five key points in conference play to move into second in Big Ten

This weekend No. 11 Notre Dame hosted Michigan State in a critical matchup for positioning in the Big Ten. The Irish (14-8-3, 7-6-2 Big Ten) had another successful weekend, picking up five points in the conference standings with a win and a shootout win, moving them into second place in the conference, passing Minnesota.

With leading scorer junior forward Cal Burke and junior forward Cam Morrison out with injuries, the team needed to shuffle its lines in an attempt to find offense. In Friday’s game, the team struck gold with its first-line trio of freshman forward Michael Graham, junior forward Mike O’Leary and junior forward Dylan Malmquist. The Spartans (9-13-4, 5-8-3) controlled play early, but Malmquist struck late in the first period to shift the momentum of the game. Irish head coach Jeff Jackson had high praise for his top unit.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and you never figure this game out. You lose two, three primary scorers and it causes your lines to change all the sudden. You find something,” Jackson said. “That’s almost what happened here. Mike O’Leary stepped up and took the role of first line center and he’s grabbed a hold of it and run with it. Michael Graham, same thing.”

The second period opened again with the Irish top line driving play and ultimately drawing a penalty, and Jackson chose to put the three forwards out together on the subsequent power play. Early in the man advantage, Malmquist struck again, hammering a one-time slapshot off the post and in to double the Irish lead. The Irish power play would finish the night three-of-four, and Jackson was pleased with the unit’s performance.

“They’re moving the puck well,” Jackson said. “They’re winning the opening faceoff which is huge. They’re getting the puck back which is also huge. Once they get possession they’re making plays. That come with instincts and knowing where to find the open guy. It’s been fun to watch.”

Midway through the second period, the Irish were being heavily outshot and junior goaltender Cale Morris had to step up and make big saves. The Irish were able to survive being significantly outshot until they started taking penalties. With Mike O’Leary and senior forward Jack Jenkins looking from the penalty box the Spartans hammered home a rebound on the five-on-three to make the game 2-1.

After that the Irish continued being out-played, at one point the shots on goal were 23-12 in favor of the Spartans. After surviving pressure in the middle of the second period, the Irish blew the game wide open late in the second. Freshman forward Cam Burke scored on a beautiful feed from fellow rookie defenseman Matt Hellickson, and then junior defenseman Tory Dello scored on a pass from Graham just 27 seconds later to put the Irish up 4-1.

In the third period the Irish power play struck twice early, with both goals coming from Graham. The Spartans would score two late goals to tighten up the final score but it was too little, too late as the Irish emerged victoriously with a 6-3 win.

Heading into game two of the series, the Irish looked to carry their high scoring momentum from the first tilt, but the game soon proved to be a goaltender duel between Spartan freshman Drew DeRidder and Morris. Both put on stellar performances, each only allowing one goal in the tie.

In the first period, Notre Dame and Michigan State traded chances at both ends and each came up empty on their power play chances. Both teams returned to the dressing room with the score scoreless, but the Irish led on the shot total and looked to have the better of the scoring opportunities.

It would be the Spartans however, that would draw first blood with a quick goal 33 seconds in from junior forward Taro Hirose, giving them a 1-0 lead. Michigan State maintained pressure by finding more high-stakes chances at the goal and spending most of the early part of the frame in the Irish zone. Both teams traded chances late in the period, but it would be the Spartans taking their 1-0 lead into the third.

Looking to tie the game up, Notre Dame ultimately got its opportunity, coming in the form of three power plays in the third period. The Irish would have several scoring chances, but were denied the equalizer, going zero-of-four on the powerplay on the night. The Irish nearly found themselves on the board halfway in, but an unlucky post would keep them off the scoresheet. However, they found their tying goal late in the third frame, as a wrist shot from senior defenseman Bobby Nardella finally beat DeRidder. Freshman forwards Graham Slaggert and Jake Pivonka each grabbed assists on the Nardella goal. Three frames would not be enough, as the game would need to be settled in extra frames.

The Irish and Spartans traded chances and stops at both ends during the first overtime period. However, the second overtime period only provided more fast paced action during the three-on-three contest. Morris came up big, stopping several shots from the slot. Ultimately, overtime would not be enough, and the game would head into a shootout. Dello struke for the Irish in the shootout, while Morris stood tall again, stopping both shots faced to give the Irish the victory and the extra Big Ten point.

Postgame, Jackson praised Nardella for the role he has played for the team. “He’s played really well for us this year. He’s the guy that stirs the drink for us on the back end like Jordan did last year,” Jackson said. “You need to have a guy like that out there that has the ability to put the game on his shoulders and make the play causes you to tie or win a game like that.”

Dello commented on the effort from the team late in the game to tie the score and collect two points.

“Coach has been on us to finish strong and win third periods. It’s a 60-minute hockey game, it’s not 20, it’s not 40,” Dello said. “With [Nardella] scoring with three minutes left, it shows a lot about our character and our resiliency, and it’s going to be important going forward for us.”

The Irish will now look ahead to their next matchup, a key series versus the No. 1 team in the Big Ten, Ohio State. The Irish sit four points behind the Buckeyes (15-5-4, 8-3-3 Big Ten) and will look to have a strong showing in order to make up more ground in conference standings. Notre Dame will face off on Friday at the Value Center Arena in Columbus, Ohio, at 7 p.m.