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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Irish can't snap Big Ten skid as Wisconsin sweep

Irish graduate student forward Trevor Janicke (left) leans in for a faceoff against Wisconsin's Tyson Dyck during Notre Dame's 2-1 loss to Wisconsin at Compton Family Ice Arena on Jan. 5, 2024.

With a chance to start fresh in 2024, Notre Dame hockey only continued its in-conference struggles. After suffering a home sweep from No. 6 Wisconsin, now the Big Ten frontrunner, the Irish extended their losing streak in league play to five games. Though Notre Dame didn’t lead all weekend, it came close in its 2-1 and 7-4 losses.

Game 1

Friday’s game played out as advertised between the top two scoring defenses and goaltenders in the Big Ten, with neither team scoring during the contest’s first half. However, Irish graduate student netminder Ryan Bischel blinked first with 7:20 remaining in the second period. Owen Lindmark beat him with a net-front tip, getting Wisconsin the all-important opening goal. 

“I’m disappointed because I thought we played a pretty good hockey game,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “That’s the way it’s gonna be when you play Wisconsin — there’s not gonna be a lot going on. So when you get the opportunities, you have to capitalize.”

Until the final horn sounded, special teams dictated the game’s outcome. Notre Dame tied the Badgers on a shorthanded goal, its first of the season, with 35.7 seconds left in the second. As the Irish forced a Badger turnover and set out on an odd-man rush, junior forward Hunter Strand stationed himself off to the side and whipped in a loose rebound.

However, in the third, Wisconsin decisively won the special teams battle. The Badgers, having entered the weekend with the Big Ten’s worst power play, capitalized on the man advantage with Charlie Stramel hammering home a one-timer with 11:58 to play.

Two minutes later, Notre Dame went on a five-minute power play. And though Wisconsin’s Joe Palodichuk left the game with a cross-checking misconduct, the Badgers’ lead did not. The Irish created only 2 shots on goal during the long 5-on-4, keeping momentum firmly on the visiting side

“I think that’s a little frustrating,” junior forward Justin Janicke said. “I think the team felt that as well because there are only 10 guys that are getting on the ice in those 5 minutes. It’s on us and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

Jeff Jackson attributed the lack of success on the power play to poor effort from the Irish.

“I just didn’t think we competed hard enough. I thought we lost too many puck battles on the power play,” Jackson said. “He just never found the ability to make a really good play to score a goal.”

Immediately after the Wisconsin major expired, Notre Dame took a second bench minor penalty. With limited time to push for overtime, the Irish put 34 total shots on Kyle McClellan, who robbed freshman forward Cole Knuble on a 2-on-1 during the final Badger power play.

Game 2:

Despite how defensive and structured Friday’s game was, the series finale opened the offensive floodgates. On a sloppy start from Notre Dame on the back end, Wisconsin quickly took a 3-0 lead on two goals from Mathieu de St. Phalle. Irish freshman forward Carter Slaggert quickly answered back, but Wisconsin pulled away at 5-1 early in the second. Wisconsin had scored two power-play goals, breaking down a typically strong Irish penalty kill. 

But when Notre Dame went on the power play with 12 minutes to go in the second, everything changed. Freshman forward Maddox Fleming lit the lamp on a dot-to-dot feed during the 5-on-4. Three minutes later, senior forward Landon Slaggert found another gear in the strength of his skating and used his quick hands at the net to wrist the puck around McClellan. The Irish then pulled within a goal just 15 seconds after Slaggert’s 13th, as another freshman forward, Brennan Ali, bested McClellan with a wrister.

At that point, Wisconsin led 5-4, prompting a Mike Hastings timeout. The Badger head coach also made a goalie change with 8:35 remaining in the second period, placing inexperienced freshman William Gramme between the pipes.

“The way we started was awful. And then we got some life in the second period, and give them credit — they made a good call on the timeout and switching goalies,” Jackson said. “That changed the momentum back away from us because we had a lot of momentum going in that second period. It’s just unfortunate that we started as slow as we did. As many good things as we did last night in our own end defensively and breaking out, we were not nearly as good tonight.”

Notre Dame kept a lead foot on the gas, nearly tying the game before the second intermission on multiple occasions. The Irish ended the frame with a 20-7 second-period shooting advantage, but Wisconsin still owned the 5-4 lead.

Though Notre Dame maintained its pressure in the third, Wisconsin scored twice to put the game away. Defenseman Ben Dexheimer buried a wrap-around at 11:54 before Carson Bantle tallied an empty-netter, making it 7-4. The Irish ultimately put 45 shots on goal, but Gramme denied all 23 he faced in relief.

After struggling so mightily to win series openers last year, Notre Dame now seems to have a second-night problem. The Irish have not won a series finale against a ranked opponent, conceding 8 goals to No. 2 Boston University and 7 to No. 5 Wisconsin on home Saturdays.

“I’ve tried different things and I don’t know what it is,” Jackson said. “We expend a lot of energy on the first night, but so does the other team … Very frustrating.”

With its win streak at nine games, Wisconsin now owns impressive records of 17-4-0 overall and 10-2-0 in conference play. The Badgers now lead Michigan State by 5 points with both teams averaging 2.5 points per game.

“They’re playing Mike Hastings hockey,” Jackson said of the Badgers. “They play a very disciplined game. They’re very structured in the way they play and they play hard, they compete hard and they do the little things. They don’t give up much.”

On the other side, Notre Dame remains in fourth place at 10-10-2 overall and 4-6-2 in the conference. The Big Ten’s bottom three now all have two games in hand on the Irish, adding to their sense of urgency in the second half.

“We’re still confident in our team. We don’t take this in the wrong way,” Janicke said. “We’re doing the right things, we’re getting there, we’re close, so I think it’s just a matter of time until we break out and have a good weekend against a good team.”

Next week, Notre Dame heads to Columbus to face Ohio State. Back in November, the Irish swept the Buckeyes, who still do not have a conference win. But Jeff Jackson and company can’t afford to look down their noses at any Big Ten opponent, especially when an in-house consistency problem demands attention.

“Right now we just need to find ourselves as far as how we’re playing the game. One night we can’t score, the next night we start slow,” Jackson said. “We’ve still got a lot of season left and I still like the culture of this group. But for whatever reason, we’re just inconsistent in our game and that’s on me. I need to find an answer to the consistency problem.”

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