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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Irish split season-opening series with Clarkson

It was a weekend of debuts, and firsts: a first loss, a first win, a first shutout and a number of first career goals as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish earned a two game split with the visiting Clarkson Golden Knights. After dropping game one Saturday by a 3-1 score, the Irish bounced back with a 3-0 win Sunday. 

Saturday

On day one of the college hockey season all across the nation, the Clarkson Golden Knights spoiled Notre Dame’s home opener, walking away 3-1 victors. Forward Cody Monds scored two goals for the visitors from Potsdam, NY, including the game-winning marker early in the third period. Star graduate student netminder Ryan Bischel turned away 22 saves for the Irish in a losing effort.

4,395 Irish fans took in the home opener at Compton Family Ice Arena, which featured a younger and speedier Irish lineup. Nine newcomers debuted for the Irish Saturday, seven of which were freshmen. Longtime Irish head coach Jeff Jackson opened the game with at least one freshman on each forward line.

It was only natural, then, that the theme of night one for the Irish was about growth. A young lineup will make mistakes. But Notre Dame cannot — and will not — improve if they do not make mistakes in the interim.

“The first month here is going to be about us figuring out what we have, learning our young guys,” Jackson said. “Just a couple bad turnovers basically led to both goals.”

Clarkson struck for the first goal midway through the first period. After Notre Dame turned the puck over at the offensive zone blue line, Monds and sophomore forward Ryan Taylor broke the other way 2-on-1. With Taylor carrying the puck on the right side, he dished a saucer pass to Monds who snapped it into the back of the net. There was no chance for the diving Bischel. 

Beginning the second period, Clarkson had their way with Notre Dame. The Golden Knights came up with nothing to show for it before the Irish swung momentum in their direction. Breaking the puck out of his own end, graduate transfer defenseman Ryan Siedem found a streaking Landon Slaggert with a tape-to-tape pass. Slaggert blasted into the Clarkson end unimpeded and wired a wrist shot blocker side, beating Clarkson starting netminder Austen Roden to tie the game.

Who more appropriate than Slaggert to score the first goal of this Notre Dame season? The team’s captain will be a critical piece of the Irish’s success this year, both from a leadership standpoint and a production one. After putting up 26 points two years ago, Slaggert only notched half that number last season. Part of that was due to a slow start. Scoring in game one of the season, Slaggert made clear that would not be the case again this season.

Slaggert’s goal would be Notre Dame’s only. 4:45 into the third period, Clarkson took the lead for good. An unforced giveaway by Irish freshman defenseman Paul Fischer left Monds in alone on Ryan Bischel. Monds made no mistake, deking to his forehand and tucking the puck around Bischels extended left leg. 

Clarkson held off a fierce attack from the Irish down the stretch to clinch an important season-opening win. The Golden Knights lost their first four out of the gate last year, setting the tone for an inconsistent, sub-.500 season. For them, the game one victory was about setting a different standard.

For Notre Dame, there were many positives to take away from night one. Although Jackson expressed disappointment that his team could only manage one goal, the potential was on display. 

“The freshmen are going to grow, and they’re going to get better as the season goes on, they’re going to get confidence. We just gotta get through these early stages, where they can get that experience.”

Sunday

On night two, Notre Dame bounced back with a 3-0 win. Ryan Bischel made 22 saves for his eighth career shutout, and the large freshman core once again made an impact. Four of the first-years recorded their first career points, and two of them scored their first career goals.

“I think there was one shift out there we had five freshmen on the ice,” Jackson said postgame Sunday. “It’s the way we are built right now, but they’re good players. They’ve acclimated pretty quickly. There’s still work to be done, I like a lot about our team, but it’s going to be a process this first month I think, just getting everyone acclimated.”

The first period ended with no score, and both teams failed to convert a power-play chance. Notre Dame controlled much of the play in the frame, breaking the puck out of their own end smoothly.

To start the second, Clarkson put together a few strong shifts of forechecking. But it was the Irish who got on the board first. Freshman forward Jayden Davis, playing his first game in an Irish uniform, overpowered goaltender Austin Roden with a wrist shot over the glove-side shoulder. Davis had worked to set up his own goal. He took out two Clarkson players with some physical play on the wall before spinning to the middle and catching the pass from freshman forward Maddox Fleming. 

It was the first career goal for Davis, and the first career point for Fleming. Davis and Fleming, playing on an all-freshman line with Brennan Ali, had a strong game and generated a number of scoring chances from below the goal line. 

The Irish added to their lead in the third off another first career goal, this one from New York Islanders draft pick Danny Nelson. The insurance marker came just 1:13 into the final frame, as graduate student forward Trevor Janicke created a turnover on the wall. Janicke made a pass to senior Grant Silianoff, who cut in below the faceoff circles and backhanded a pass across the crease. Nelson had gained inside-out leverage on Clarkson defender and St. Louis Blues draft pick Noah Beck, and was standing right in the paint for the tap-in. Unafraid to go to the hard areas of the ice, Nelson led all players in shots on goal this weekend with 11, and had his first career goal to show for it.

A late-game, offensive zone penalty sank the Golden Knights and their comeback bid. With George Grannis in the box for elbowing Carter Slaggert, the Irish were able to put the game out of reach on the power-play with Landon Slaggert’s second goal in as many nights. 

Trailing by three, Clarkson pulled their goaltender with 3:24 to go in the contest, hoping to end Bischel’s shutout bid. It was to no avail. Bischel, making his 39th consecutive start for Notre Dame dating back to last season, was strong again in net for the Irish. Back for his graduate student season, Bischel’s play will be another key part of the season for Notre Dame. 

“He gives our team confidence,” Jackson said. “He’s just so calm back there. I [am] so proud of that kid for how he’s grown over the last four year. I want to see him have a great year, so he can can get an opportunity to play at the next level. He’s got to be dialed into what he’s doing here right now, but if he’s not the best goalie in the country, you’re going to have to show me who is.”

Looking Ahead

Notre Dame heads to Rochester, New York for one game Saturday night against the RIT Tigers. The Irish return home two weekends from now to take on No. 1 ranked Boston University and top NHL draft prospect Macklin Celebrini.