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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Bischel stars as Notre Dame sweeps No. 19 Ohio State

Last season’s Notre Dame hockey team, which barely missed the NCAA Tournament, did not sweep a Big Ten series until January 28th. That sweep came against a Wisconsin team that went 6-18-0 in conference play. This year, the Irish broke out the brooms two weeks into Big Ten play, cleaning out No. 19 Ohio State at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Ohio State’s Brent Johnson collides with Irish graduate student goaltender Ryan Bischel during Notre Dame’s 3-0 victory at Compton Family Ice Arena on Nov. 11.

In front of two sellout crowds on Veterans Day weekend, Notre Dame seized 4-1 and 3-0 victories. The Irish, playing their best hockey of the season, have a six-game unbeaten streak rolling. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson sees underlying signs of improvement as well.

“They’re getting better,” Jackson said of his players. “A lot of the things we’re working on in practice we’re starting to see in the game. That doesn’t always happen with teams. They’re grasping the information that we’re giving them, and they’re trying to execute it.”

Now 6-3-2 overall and 2-0-2 in Big Ten play, the Irish rank third in the conference with 9 points. They sit behind only Wisconsin and Michigan State, two teams they have yet to face.

Irish ride dominant second period to 4-1 Friday win

It took a while for Friday’s game to get going as both teams felt each other out. Ohio State sought a fast start after last weekend’s poor performance against Michigan State on home ice, but that didn’t equate to many true scoring chances. Meanwhile, Notre Dame dragged along with the Buckeyes, finishing the first period with 10 shots to the visitors’ 11.

“That sometimes happens on school days when you’re playing at home,” Jackson remarked. “I wish we would’ve had a little bit better start, but I was really pleased with the effort. It’s exciting for us as coaches to see us making that transition, connecting different parts of the game that one part leads to the next part that leads to offensive opportunities.”

Those opportunities came in bunches during a second period which saw the Irish outshoot the Buckeyes 22-8. More importantly, Notre Dame scored three goals, beginning just 2:31 into the second frame. A wonderful zone entry from freshman forward Brennan Ali allowed graduate defenseman Ryan Siedem to swoop in and shoot low from the hash marks. Buckeye netminder Logan Terness made the first save but left a big rebound for junior forward Tyler Carpenter, who hacked the puck home for his third goal of the season.

Midway through the period, Notre Dame’s power-play added another. Siedem’s second consecutive primary assist set up a snipe from Justin Janicke atop the left circle. The junior forward’s second goal of the year added to an Irish power play that now owns a 20.9% success rate. Combine that with a Big Ten-best 89.5% penalty kill rate and Notre Dame has much-improved special teams from a year ago.

Down two goals, Ohio State capitulated late in the period, losing top scorer Stephen Halliday to a 10-minute misconduct and taking two minor penalties in a 54-second span. On the ensuing 5-on-3, Notre Dame scored again with senior forward Landon Slaggert banging home a rebound from freshman forward Danny Nelson’s one-timer. Despite making 42 saves on the night, Terness struggled to control second chances, and the Irish jumped on them.

“It’s a matter of being in position to get to [rebounds],” Jackson said. “The rebounds that were showing up tonight were more in tight to the net, so you have to get body positioning on the defensemen. Our guys were pretty good at competing for that ice, and that’s how you win the net-front at both ends.”

Before Ohio State’s Caden Brown broke up the shutout late in the third, Notre Dame found a fourth goal. It followed a textbook forecheck from junior forward Hunter Strand and the third line. With his wingers setting up in the slot, Strand won the puck behind the net. He moved the puck low-to-high for Ali, who one-touched it across the goalmouth for Grant Silianoff in front of a yawning cage. The senior forward made no mistake for his first goal of the season, giving the Irish a tally from a member of all four lines.

“We’ve gotten really good production out of each line” Jackson stated. “If you can get four lines that can all be productive, it’s a big boost. The biggest thing is staying out of the penalty box. If you can play five-on-five hockey and roll all four lines, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Senior netminder Ryan Bischel earned the game’s first star with 34 saves as the Irish won or tied their fourth consecutive series opener.

Bischel’s third shutout secures the sweep

On night two, the Irish expected immediate pushback from Ohio State, but it never materialized. The Buckeyes generated only 4 shots in the first period, and none of their 26 total beat Bischel. 

Notre Dame countered with a goal in all three periods, receiving much-needed contributions from two snakebit, top-six forwards. Graduate student Patrick Moynihan netted his first 2 goals in an Irish sweater, while forward Cole Knuble lit the lamp on an empty-netter for the first time in his career.

“It helps build their confidence. They feel like their contributing more than just their general play,” Jackson said. “For guys that are accustomed to scoring, and those two guys have a history of scoring, I’m sure it’s been a tough couple of months for them. But they finally got off the cuff and hopefully, they’ve got that weight off their shoulders.”

Moynihan first scored to beat the first-period buzzer. With 2.8 seconds remaining, he followed a mishit one-timer to the left post, where he jammed the puck around the sprawling Terness. 

Then, halfway through the second period, the Providence transfer went to the dirty area to strike again. As Moynihan emerged from behind the cage on his backhand, his centering pass elevatored off the netminder’s stick and under the crossbar. 

“A big thing with the coaching staff that I was working on this week was trying to get to the net more and use my shot and use my hands in front,” Moynihan said. “They weren’t the prettiest, but they don’t ask how so just happy I got those two in.”

Moynihan also mentioned his linemate, captain Landon Slaggert, as a vital part of his success. Slaggert had a big night himself, adding his first 3 assists of the season to a team-high 8 goals. 

“He’s a guy that pushes not just me but the whole team in practice, so he’s great to play with,” Moynihan said about Slaggert. “He’s a guy that’s gonna do everything for the team to win.”

Finally, at long last, Knuble scored his first collegiate goal late in the third period. Winning the race to a loose puck in the Buckeye zone, he slid the puck into the empty net, locking down a sweep on home ice. Bischel, who earned his 10th career shutout Saturday night, recognizes his team’s progress.

“I think this team’s really starting to buy in to start playing Irish hockey,” Bischel said. “These last couple weekends, we showed that if we can play the right way we can play with any team and that’s how we’re gonna have success. I think guys are really starting to realize that and buy into it, so it’s good to see.”

How far can ‘Irish hockey’ go?

Expect Notre Dame to rejoin the rankings this week. Receiving 18 votes, the Irish were already the second team outside the top 20 before sweeping Ohio State. And beyond the Buckeyes, fringe top-20 teams Minnesota Duluth and RIT struggled over the weekend, opening the door for Notre Dame to jump in.

But whatever ranking the Irish secure will face extreme challenges very soon. Notre Dame’s next seven games before the holiday break are: at No. 6 Minnesota, No. 1 Boston College (one game), No. 8 Michigan and No. 11 Michigan State. 

“We just need to continue to try and get better every day,” Jackson said. “And when we’re running into these teams we just have to find ways to play our game.”

The Irish head to the Twin Cities next weekend to battle the Golden Gophers. Minnesota, which sat atop the rankings for a few weeks in October, has struggled since starting Big Ten play, picking up just 4 points from four difficult games.

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