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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

Irish earn split in Minneapolis ahead of showdown with Boston College

The Notre Dame hockey team prepares around graduate student goaltender Ryan Bischel before their 3-0 win over Ohio State at Compton Family Ice Arena on Nov. 11.

Notre Dame hockey continued a strong month of November by earning a split at No. 6 Minnesota last weekend. The Irish (7-4-2, 3-1-2 B1G) won Friday’s contest at 3M Arena at Mariucci by a 4-2 score. The Gophers (6-4-2, 2-3-1 B1G) responded with a 4-1 win Saturday night.

Irish win series-opener

The Irish entered the weekend series riding high on a six-game unbeaten streak. After a sweep at home over Ohio State, the Irish were tested early on in Friday’s contest. Rhett Pitlick scored the game’s opening goal for Minnesota, but a quick response by Irish senior forward Grant Silianoff left the game tied after one.

Minnesota dominated the second period, outshooting Notre Dame 17-2. Nonetheless, Notre Dame scored on one of their two shots. Graduate student forward Patrick Moynihan potted his third goal in two games to put Notre Dame ahead 2-1 just 47 seconds into the period. The Irish then had to fend off a barrage, almost surviving unscathed. Ultimately, St. Louis Blues draft pick Jimmy Snuggerud would tie the game with his eighth of the season. The goal came with less than two minutes remaining in the second period on one of Minnesota’s two power plays in the frame.

The game was again tied going to the third. Notre Dame would take the lead for good early in the third, as Moynihan found a streaking Drew Bavaro with a cross-ice pass. The offensively-minded senior defenseman snuck the puck five-hole on Minnesota senior netminder Justen Close for his fourth of the year. Close, starting his 11th straight game to start the year, finished with 19 saves on 22 shots in a losing effort.

Reigning Big-Ten first star of the week Ryan Bischel got the start as usual for Notre Dame, and was again outstanding, making 33 saves in the victory. Notre Dame controlled the third period, outshooting the Gophers 14-8 and sealing the win with an empty-net goal from senior forward Landon Slaggert.

Minnesota takes game two

Saturday’s contest started in an oddly similar manner to Friday’s, at least on paper. Pitlick, a Montreal Canadiens draftee, opened the scoring for Minnesota. The result for the Irish was not the same, though. Despite equalling the score late in the first with freshman forward Carter Slaggert’s first career goal, Minnesota took control of the game in the second. Goals by defensemen Ryan Chesley and forward Jaxon Nelson put the Gophers ahead for good. Pitlick added another in the third to give Minnesota a decisive 4-1 win.

Despite what, on paper, looked like a stronger night offensively for Notre Dame, the Irish could not find a well-timed goal to get within striking distance. They peppered the Minnesota goal in the third, outshooting Minnesota 18-9. This time, it was Close’s night to shine. The Gopher goaltender stopped 37 of 38 Irish shots in the win, while Bischel made 29 saves for Notre Dame.

The fact that both nights featured strong goaltending performances should not come as a surprise. Bischel was last year’s Big Ten goaltender of the year, with Close second in the voting. Both are among the top seven goaltenders in minutes played nationally and top 20 in save percentage.

For Minnesota, the bounce-back win Saturday was crucial. Having already been swept at home by Wisconsin this year, Minnesota could not afford another sweep at the hands of the Irish. The Gophers are in sixth place out of seven in the Big Ten, but their hopes of a third straight Big Ten regular season title remain alive following Saturday’s victory. A loss may have crushed those hopes.

The even split of three points keeps Notre Dame on pace to contend in the Big Ten. It was a strong result for a young Irish team, who are showing that they may be finding their game sooner than expected. Notre Dame’s 12 points in conference play have them tied for second place with Wisconsin.

Irish to host high-flying Eagles on Black Friday

This week, No. 18 Notre Dame dips back into non-conference play, but the pool is pretty hot. No. 1 Boston College (9-2-1, 4-1-1 Hockey East) brings its spectacular freshman class to South Bend for a standalone Friday game. The Eagles, who currently share the nation’s top spot with North Dakota, have been a top team all season long.

Even with a loaded schedule, Boston College has not lost consecutive games. The Eagles opened the year with a 2-1 takedown of defending national champion Quinnipiac before sweeping Big Ten leading Michigan State with 11 total goals to finish October. In conference play, Boston College has swept UMass Lowell and UConn while earning 2 of 6 points at Maine.

Under head coach Greg Brown, Boston College thrives on a young but immensely talented forward group. Each of its top six forwards are NHL draft picks, collectively averaging 12.2 points in 11 games this season. Altogether, the Eagles have the sixth-best scoring offense in the country with 3.67 goals per game.

The first line features a trio of first-round choices from last summer’s draft: Gabe Perreault, Will Smith and Ryan Leonard. Perreault currently holds a 10-game point streak, with Smith and Leonard having cracked the score sheet in six consecutive contests themselves.

Behind them, Flyers fifth overall pick Cutter Gauthier centers the second line, ranking second in the nation with 11 goals. He scored three of them last weekend against the Huskies, including the overtime winner in Friday’s back-and-forth affair.

Another freshman, Jacob Fowler, mans the Boston College goal crease. The third-round Montreal selection sits just outside the nation’s top 10 with a .926 save percentage, earning his first collegiate shutout with 31 saves Saturday. This week, Fowler will oppose Bischel, who owns a .936 stoppage rate after a strong Friday night showing.

As a team, Boston College excels in the special teams department. Nationally, the Eagles rank ninth in power-play percentage (25.5) and fourth in penalty kill rate (91.5). Notre Dame, while pedestrian on the man advantage, still ranks seventh in the country at killing penalties.

Notre Dame has a chance to even the 53-year Boston College series Friday. After winning in Chestnut Hill last year, the Irish have 22 victories to the Eagles’ 23. The two prestigious programs will meet for the 49th time Friday at 4 p.m., with the game streaming live on Peacock.

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