Though they probably didn’t need any rest, having just come back from semester break, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish got to enjoy a bye week last weekend, after sweeping the Michigan Wolverines the first weekend in January. We are now twenty-two games into the season and Notre Dame hockey, ranked number one in both college hockey polls, still has yet to lose a conference game. Currently in their inaugural Big Ten season, the Irish have now seen every team in their conference. Looking at all seven teams in the Big Ten, it’s no secret that this is a hard conference to sweep. Healthy, rested, and still red hot, it’s fair to assume no team is looking forward to facing the Irish at the moment.
The Irish are the first Big Ten team to start 12-0-0 and are riding a fifteen game win streak. The streak is their longest in school history, and the longest in the nation right now. One more win for head coach Jeff Jackson will give him the longest winning streak of his historic coaching career. Compared to the NCAA of yesteryear, there aren’t as many dominant teams, and in an era of college hockey where scoring is down and ties are up, it’s also impressive that the Irish haven’t tied during their undefeated run in conference play. Next up for Notre Dame this weekend are a Wisconsin Badgers team that the Irish saw last month. The Irish host the Badgers on Friday at the regular barn, then again on Sunday at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, Indiana (Game 1) and United Center, Chicago, Illinois (Game 2)
When: Friday, Jan. 19, 7:35 p.m. EST (Game 1) and Sunday, Jan. 21, 3:00 p.m. EST (Game 2)
Watch: NBC Sports Chicago Plus (Game 1) and NBC Sports Network (Game 2)
Tale of the Tape
The Badgers are led by United States men’s national hockey team coach Tony Granato in his second year behind the bench in Madison, WI. A former NHL left winger and two-time head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, Granato was brought in to turn around a program that went from consistently appearing in the Frozen Four to not having made the NCAA tournament since 2014. The Badgers went 20-15-1 in his first year as head coach. This year, Wisconsin is an even 11-11-3 coming into this weekend’s series with the top ranked team in the nation.
While the Irish were off last weekend, the Badgers were busy taking on the Michigan State Spartans. Wisconsin split the weekend series with MSU in Madison by losing 2-0 on Friday and winning 5-2 on Saturday. Granato’s team responded well to being shut out in the first game by getting a goal from five different players in Sunday’s win. Sean Dhoogee, Trent Frederic, Ryan Wagner, JD Greenway and Seamus Malone all lit the lamp for the Badgers in the win.
The Wisconsin hockey team is better than their .500 record indicates. With 79 goals in 25 games, the Badgers rank second in the Big Ten in scoring, behind only the Penn State Nittany Lions. Missing from the scoring showcase in their win over Michigan State was freshman forward Tarek Baker. Baker leads the team with 7 goals this season, a pair of which were game-winners. On defense, watch out for freshman Wyatt Kalynuk, who has an impressive 12 assists on the season thus far. Only Michigan’s Cooper Marody and Tanner Laczynski of the Ohio State Buckeyes have more assists than Kalynuk, last year’s seventh round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.
As for the Irish, Hobey Baker hopeful Cale Morris continues to shine and should continue to improve upon his NCAA lead in wins and save percentage. There’s quite the storyline with the goaltenders in this one. Morris, arguably the most outstanding goalie in the nation this year, credits childhood friend and current Wisconsin netminder Kyle Hayton with getting him his start in playing the position. Hayton played well against the Spartans in his last series, and will now face the kid he used to loan his goalie equipment to back in their native Colorado.
The last time these two teams met, the Irish took care of the Badgers 3-2 and 6-2, respectively. The series was the last for both teams before semester break. No one should be more excited to see the Badgers again than Cal Burke. In their most recent meeting, Burke found the net in each period of a hat trick. In addition to Burke’s hatty in the second game, junior Dylan Malmquist also had a big series, with a pair of goals in the first game. Morris stopped 73 of 77 shots in the series sweep in Madison.
The Second City
The series will conclude on Sunday afternoon in the home of the Chicago Blackhawks. This will count as a home game for Notre Dame. Another game is scheduled between the two teams at United Center next season, which will count as a home game for Wisconsin. There’s also a highly anticipated home and home football series between the two schools, where one game will be played in 2020 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI and another in 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.
The Irish are no strangers to the Windy City. The last time Notre Dame took the ice for a game at the Madhouse on Madison, it was in last year’s Frozen Four, in a losing effort to the Denver Pioneers. Coach Jeff Jackson and the team spent the recent bye week in Chicago, taking part in networking events with program alums in the city, and even using the United Center for a practice. Notre Dame graduate and current Blackhawks vice president and general manager Stan Bowman spoke with the team during the networking trip. The Irish also got to take in a game at the building they’ll be playing in Sunday, where they watched former Irish forward Vinnie Hinostroza start for Chicago against the Minnesota Wild. Sunday’s game could be a sign of things to come for junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. I’ve gotta assume they’ll play Chelsea Dagger if he gets a goal.
I do think there will come a day when Notre Dame loses a Big Ten hockey game. However, I don’t see it being this series. The Irish will be too strong for Wisconsin to overcome in South Bend and Chicago. Morris has been on fire in net, and it isn’t because he’s been untested. He’ll continue to make his case for being the third goalie to win a Hobey Baker Award. I’m expecting his fellow Hobey hopeful and Irish captain Jake Evans to have a huge series. Evans was surprisingly quiet during the series against Michigan two weeks ago, having just returned from his Spengler Cup victory. He’ll look to continue his outstanding season against a Wisconsin defensive unit that allows just under 3 goals per game. Look for him to lead the Irish to a series sweep to extend their historic Big Ten run.