By Ryan Murphy and Tom Zwiller
In major need of a statement weekend, the Notre Dame hockey team delivered. They swept Wisconsin in a two-game set, claiming their first consecutive victories since October.
The Irish downed Wisconsin on Friday night 5-3, taking the first game of a critical weekend set. With the win, Notre Dame returns to the .500 mark with a 12-12-3 record and is again eligible for the NCAA tournament.
In a game between two typically low-scoring teams, the first period was a bit of a surprise: the teams combined for five goals in the opening frame alone. Notre Dame struck first, building a 2-0 lead on a power-play goal by graduate student forward Chayse Primeau and an even-strength marker by sophomore forward Hunter Strand. The goals came just 53 seconds apart.
Wisconsin responded in short order, though, as freshman forward Jack Horbach squeaked a shot between Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel’s arm and the near side post at 9:51. Then, freshman Charlie Stramel deflected a slot shot by defenseman Daniel Laatsch past Bischel to tie the score at 12:08. Laatsch, a Pittsburgh Penguins' draftee, registered assists on both goals, making tonight the first multi-point game of his career.
The Irish took the lead for good with less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame when senior forward Jesse Lansdell cleaned up a rebound on the near post, poking the puck up and over outstretched Wisconsin goaltender Jared Moe.
The only goal of the second period came off the tape of Jack Adams. He finished off a beautiful passing sequence that he himself started. After dishing the puck to Chase Blackmun at the point, Adams parked himself at the bottom of the near face-off circle, unmarked by any Badgers. Blackmun fed Nick Leivermann, who sold the shot and found Adams wide open on the back door for a tap-in goal.
An Adams goal tends to be a good sign for the Irish—all four of his goals this year are game-winners, as was his second-period marker tonight.
Teams traded goals in the third, as sophomore Justin Janicke scored his sixth of the season, assisted by Rolston and Primeau at 2:19. Wisconsin junior forward Mathieu De St. Phalle pulled the Badgers back to within two on the power-play at 4:24, but that was as close as the Badgers would get to threatening the Irish lead.
All night, the Irish did an excellent job limiting Wisconsin’s shots from the inner slot (between the two faceoff circles). This was especially important late in the third period when the B. Notre Dame outshot Wisconsin from the inner slot 19-6 tonight and kept the Badgers to four shots from the interior in the third.
Special teams also played a big part in the Notre Dame victory. The Irish went 2-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill. Graduate forward Jackson Pierson won 13 of 18 draws in the face-off circle, a 72.2% success rate. He was, by far, the best faceoff man on either team.
Even more encouraging for the Irish was the depth of scoring they received tonight. Thirteen skaters contributed a point, and five different players netted goals.
In his 27th start of the season, Ryan Bischel saved 27 of 30 shots in goal for Notre Dame. Jared Moe took the loss in net for Wisconsin, stopping 30 of 35.
Irish complete much-needed sweep
The Irish began Saturday’s matchup like they did Fridays: with a power-play goal.
Wisconsin went to the box for a slashing penalty early in the first, and although Notre Dame generated a few shots, the Badgers killed off their first of nine penalties.
Wisconsin’s second penalty came only a few minutes later, giving the Irish a second chance. The Irish made the most of it.
With 24 seconds remaining in the powerplay, Rolston made a pass from down in the corner up to captain graduate student Nick Leivermann. The defender carried the puck along the blue line and ripped a shot from the Big Ten logo. Junior forward Landon Slaggert deflected the shot and beat Moe to give the Irish an early lead.
Though that was the only goal of the first period, it was by no means the last Wisconsin penalty.
With just two and a half minutes remaining in the first period, Wisconsin’s Luke LaMaster leveled a colossal hit on Rolston. The hit was immediately ruled a minor before being upgraded to a five-minute major for contact to the head.
The Irish man-up advantage would last until Slaggert was called for goaltender interference, nullifying the Irish powerplay until the second period.
Midway through the second period, Wisconsin was called for its fourth penalty, setting up Notre Dame with another power play. With just half a minute left on the man advantage, the Irish scored what might be the most chaotic goal of their season.
Pierson made a quick pass to sophomore Hunter Strand, who then snapped it to senior Jesse Lansdell. Lansdell turned and took a point-blank shot which Moe blocked.
Alhough the Badgers initially blocked the shot, the rebound trickled out in front of the net, resulting in both teams crashing the net. Strand found the puck and lifted it over Moe, who had fallen to the ground in all the commotion.
Wisconsin challenged the goal, looking for a missed goaltender interference call, but the goal stood.
Notre Dame’s third and final goal once again came on the power play, though the power play lasted a total of five seconds. Notre Dame won the faceoff in the Wisconsin defensive end, and grad student Chayse Primeau kicked it up to a waiting Leivermann.
Leivermann sent the puck along the blue line to fellow defender Chase Blackmun. Blackmun immediately took open ice and let the puck fly above the far faceoff dot. The shot went past a diving Wisconsin defender and Moe.
Late in the third, as Wisconsin fans began to head for the exits, senior Solag Bakich was called for a slashing penalty. Desperate, Wisconsin pulled Moe to gain a 6-on-4 advantage. The Badgers used the advantage effectively and were finally able to beat Bischel to make it a 3-1 game.
The Badger’s chances of pulling a comeback were hurt dramatically when LaMaster was called for his second contact to the head penalty and was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
The Irish held on to win the game 3-1 and swept the Badgers at home.
Notre Dame’s sweep of Wisconsin is their first of a Big 10 Conference opponent this season and their first since Northern Michigan 104 days ago in mid-October.
Notre Dame now turns its attention to next weekend's matchup, when they play No. 15 Michigan State in Lansing.
It's a pivotal match-up, as the Irish are just two points ahead of the Spartans in the standings. Thanks to the sweep of Wisconsin, Notre Dame currently stands to host a quarterfinal series in the Big 10 playoffs. They sit fourth in the conference. Beating the Spartans in Lansing would go a long way to help solidify their spot in the conference.
When the Irish hosted the Spartans at Compton earlier this year, they won game one 5-0 and lost in a shootout in game two. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.