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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Nine months later, Irish look to right wrongs against Michigan State

Irish senior forward Landon Slaggert (19) wraps the puck around Jake Barczewksi's right pad to open the scoring in Notre Dame's 6-1 defeat of Michigan at Compton Family Ice Arena on Dec. 1.

On March 5, Michigan State ended Notre Dame’s season at Compton Family Ice Arena. The Irish, overcoming an early-February sweep at the hands of Sparty, had improbably secured home ice for the Big Ten quarterfinals in the season’s final month. After defeating MSU 1-0 in game one of the three-game series, Notre Dame needed one win to advance and take a step closer to NCAA tournament inclusion.

But the Spartans had other plans. Though the Irish recorded the opening tally in game two, Michigan State scored 8 of the weekend’s next 11 goals to capture the series. Notre Dame’s late-season push, once filled with hope, finished with heartbreak.

Now, almost 280 days later, the Irish will take another shot at the Spartans. This year’s Michigan State team, at 10-4-2 overall and 5-1-2 in Big Ten play, is even better. It leads the conference with 18 points, owning a tiebreaker with Wisconsin and outpacing third-place Notre Dame by 3 points. 

Notre Dame (8-6-2, 4-2-2 Big Ten), has rejoined the rankings at No. 20 after an encouraging split with Michigan. The Irish will oppose No. 7 Michigan State in their 10th and 11th consecutive games against a ranked opponent, transitioning to the second half of their regular season schedule.

Nelson makes World Juniors preliminary roster

On Monday, the 2024 U.S. National Junior Team preliminary roster went public, and it features an Irish forward. Freshman Danny Nelson appears among a star-studded class of 16 forwards. The team, whose preliminary roster of 29 players and 14 Big Ten products, will compete in Gothenburg, Sweden, between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5.

Nelson, a native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, has quietly engineered Notre Dame’s offensive success. He ranks second on the team with 14 points on 3 goals and 11 assists. Nelson’s production has picked up since he began centering the top forward line with senior Landon Slaggert and graduate student Patrick Moynihan in late October. In Friday’s 6-1 defeat of Michigan, Nelson enjoyed a multi-point night, scoring the final Irish goal. 

After this weekend’s series, Nelson will head back to Michigan for training camp from Dec. 14-16. He will tentatively wear No. 17 with Minnesota’s Oliver Moore claiming his No. 11. It’s worth noting that the man Nelson shoots on this weekend, MSU netminder Trey Augustine, appears on the roster as well. 

Spartans seek successful finish to excellent first half

Like Notre Dame, Michigan State will enter the holiday break after this weekend’s series. The Spartans already have plenty to hang their hats on, including a 7-0-1 home record at Munn Ice Arena. Since suffering a road sweep at No. 2 Boston College to end October, MSU has run the Big Ten table. The Spartans have scored at least three goals in each of their eight conference games while taking at least 3 points in all four in-league series.

Michigan State did not play last weekend but posted one of college hockey’s best results in mid-November. The Spartans swept then-No. 1 Wisconsin on home ice, commandeering the top spot in the conference. After that, in its most recent series, MSU took half the available points at Minnesota with both games going beyond regulation time.

Through 16 games, Michigan State wields the top-producing offense in the Big Ten. The Spartans have grown accustomed to high-scoring affairs, averaging 4.31 goals per game while allowing 3.31 tallies per contest. Between the pipes, Notre Dame graduate student Ryan Bischel and Michigan State freshman Trey Augustine lead the conference in saves.

Without much high-end star-power in front of Augustine, an NHL second-rounder, Michigan State thrives on balanced scoring. Sparty’s top forward line features Isaac Howard (the team’s lone first-rounder), Karsen Dorwart and Daniel Russell. All three have 11 or more points, with Howard’s 13 assists leading the line. Behind them, the second line possesses a combined 384 games of experience, and the third line sneakily paces the team in production.

Look for Michigan State to challenge Notre Dame on special teams this weekend. The Spartans lead the Big Ten with 5 short-handed goals, sourcing from five different players. Their dangerous penalty-killing unit will oppose an Irish power play that has slowed to a conference-worst 16.4% conversion rate in recent weeks.

Notre Dame and Michigan State will meet at Munn Ice Arena for a 7 p.m. puck drop Friday and a 6 p.m start Saturday. Both games will appear on Big Ten Plus.

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