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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame’s magic runs out in quarterfinal loss

The pieces to the puzzle were all there. Playing on home ice with the confidence of back-to-back series wins against top-10 opposition, Notre Dame hockey had its chance to solidify itself among the NCAA tournament field. Friday’s victory put the Irish a win away, but No. 20 Michigan State stormed back Saturday and Sunday to take out ND in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Given Notre Dame’s position right around the .500 mark, the series loss will likely end the season.

“This has been a great group of guys. They’re great kids, the culture’s strong and the leadership is good,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “Everything was in place, but we just lost some key recruits and we lost some offense.”

The Irish only needed one goal to win Friday’s game. It came from junior winger Grant Silianoff, who whacked a fluttering puck past Dylan St. Cyr after senior center Trevor Janicke had his shot blocked late in the second period. Though Michigan State outshot Notre Dame 18-2 in the final period, the Irish held on tight. Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel earned the game’s first star with a 36-save shutout.

Game two started with promise for ND, as well. Senior winger Solag Bakich scored on a 2-on-0 in the first period, but the Irish derailed from there. With two goals in each of the next two periods, MSU jumped to a comfortable lead and denied a late Notre Dame surge to win 4-2.

Game three

The Irish power-play has served an integral role in their recent run, and it struck again early Sunday. Less than five minutes in, sophomore winger Justin Janicke fired a shot through a screen from junior winger Landon Slaggert. St. Cyr never saw the puck, and the Irish jumped out to a 1-0 lead.

Then, with 8:33 left in the first, Michigan State answered back. Notre Dame’s fourth line was sloppy in clearing the zone, leaving the puck for Erik Middendorf. His shot was blocked, but Bischel’s reaction left the net wide open for Nicolas Müller, who made no mistake.

Several more golden chances arose for the Irish after that. First, a dump-in play careened off a stanchion in the corner, leaving the puck in the crease with St. Cyr behind the net. However, Bakich couldn’t quite get there in time. Later on, the former Irish netminder robbed graduate center Chayse Primeau and senior defenseman Nick Leivermann in tight. Notre Dame earned one more power play late in the first, but the Spartans killed it off to uphold the 1-1 score.

“Early on, we couldn’t get enough internal shooting. That’s [MSU’s] system,” Jackson said. “I thought the best way to beat that would be to attack them in transition.”

In the second period, Notre Dame continued to apply pressure. By the second intermission, the Irish had built up a 25-13 advantage in shots on goal. However, the game was tied no more. Just over halfway through the period, Primeau and Müller set up for a face-off in the Irish zone on the back side of a media timeout. Muller went forward with the draw, gaining possession and setting up Jeremy Davidson for a tap-in goal. The brilliant set play shocked all 5,000-plus fans inside Compton and gave MSU a 2-1 lead.

“That definitely drained us and the crowd. Each of the last two games, we were buzzing in the first half of the second period,” Justin Janicke said. “At the media timeout, we were talking about how we needed to get on those chances and capitalize. Yesterday, they scored on the power-play, and today, right after the break.”

After the game, Jackson said Primeau played through a broken finger, which may have diminished his usual prowess in the face-off circle.

For the remainder of the period, Notre Dame continued to fling pucks at St. Cyr, but the 5-foot-8 goaltender stood tall. He was especially strong against long-distance shots, seeing around Irish screens without issue. Michigan State generated a couple high-quality chances as well, but Bischel held his team within one goal through two periods.

Just under seven minutes into the third, Sparty struck again. Nash Nienhuis fired a shot from outside, and the deflected puck found Tiernan Shoudy, who slid it over the goal line. Moments later, St. Cyr pulled off a highway robbery on Silianoff to maintain the 3-1 lead. 

“You’ve gotta have guys who can score goals. We have some, but not as much as other teams,” Jackson said. “We ran into a good goalie. For a team that’s already got a little bit of a scoring problem, that’s a bad combination.”

Notre Dame found new life in the final four minutes, as the combination of a Michigan State interference penalty and an empty Irish net created a 6-on-4. During the two-man advantage, Leivermann ripped a shot that careened to the side of the net. Sophomore center Hunter Strand was ready for it, and he stuffed it in.

Within 20 seconds of the goal, Bischel scampered to the bench again. The Irish possessed the puck brilliantly, but disaster struck as soon as they lost it. Müller, desperately trying to clear the zone, pulled in the puck and pitchforked it down the ice. Sure enough, it danced into the Irish zone ahead of the defense and trickled just inside the left post. With that, the Spartans led 4-2 and had a firm grasp on the final spot in the Big Ten semifinals.

Aside from the cheers of Spartan fans, the final two minutes ticked away quietly. After all the memories made in the last three weeks, reality set in that Notre Dame’s season was likely finished. Both Strand and Justin Janicke felt like the Irish — who outshot MSU 39-28 — played with the proper desperation to earn a better result.

“It’s obviously really tough,” Janicke said. “Little things didn’t go right today, and they got some bounces. Just like that, it’s probably over.”

Michigan State advances to visit No. 1 Minnesota on Saturday. On the other side of the bracket, No. 4 Michigan and No. 9 Ohio State will meet in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, all Notre Dame can do is wait. Over the next two weekends, the Irish will need an improbable combination of results to have any chance at the big dance.