Everything seemed to be going great for coach Jeff Jackson and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-5-1, 14-2-0-0). Sixteen straight victories was a best for both the university and the legendary coach. Then, they returned to the dreaded United Center, where their Frozen Four run ended last year at the hands of the Denver Pioneers.
After a shocking 5-0 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, followed up five days later by a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Irish suddenly found themselves on a two game losing streak. In those two games, the Irish offense, which has been praised all season, couldn’t find the back of the net once. Facing the threat of their first three game losing streak of the season, the Irish stopped the bleeding with a 4-1 win against the Gophers to split the series.
Coming into this weekend’s contest, the Irish have dropped to No. 2 in both the USCHO and USA Hockey polls. While hopes of going undefeated in the conference are over, there appears to be no real reason for Irish fans to panic. Their grip on the Big Ten remains strong, and they’re coming into this series 11 points ahead of the next closest team, the Ohio State Buckeyes. They’ll look to extend that lead even further this weekend against the Penn State Nittany Lions (13-11-4, 6-8-4-2) who are coming off a devastating sweep.
Where: Pegula Ice Arena, University Park, PA
When: Friday, Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m. EST (Game 1) and Saturday, Feb. 3, 4:00 p.m. EST (Game 2)
Watch: Big Ten Network (Game 1)
Tale of the Tape
While the Irish avoided an ugly losing streak, but the Nittany Lions went out of their way to continue one. Last weekend, Penn State went into the third period of both games against the Wisconsin Badgers having led the entire first sixty minutes. However, they allowed the Badgers to tie both games within the final ten minutes and ultimately were swept, the latter being in a shootout.
The Nittany Lions are a team that relies heavily on their offense, as they lead all of Division I in goals with 104. The scary thing about head coach Guy Gadowsky’s team is that they share the wealth on the offensive end, with seven players on their team having seven or more goals. The Irish, a team also known for their offense, only has three players with seven or more goals. Richter Award front-runner Cale Morris should be busy again this weekend.
In addition to putting an end to the two-game slide, Saturday’s win against Minnesota also woke up the Notre Dame offense. Defenseman Jordan Gross and forward Jake Evans got the scoring going early for the Irish, but it was forward Dylan Malmquist who scored two insurance goals in the third to seal the victory. The goals were Malmquist’s fifth and sixth of the season. The junior from Edina, MN has been on fire since play resumed from semester break. He’ll look to continue his impressive second half of the season against Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones, who has allowed a conference-worst 72 goals this season.
The Last Time
This weekend will mark only the fourth series between the two schools on the ice. While the Irish are new to the Big Ten, Penn State is still rather new to Division I hockey, as 2012-13 was their first year. This might come up on a trivia question someday; Compton Family Ice Arena’s first Big Ten game was against Penn State when the Irish hosted the Nittany Lions earlier this season. Coach Jeff Jackson’s team swept the series, winning on Nov. 10, by a score of 5-3 and Nov. 11, by a score of 1-0. Senior forward Bo Brauer scored twice in that series, including the only goal in the second game. Since that series, Brauer has set to score another goal and only has one assist. If he’s to break out of his slump, this is the series to do it.
Penn State has played fairly well in self-proclaimed Hockey Valley. The Nittany Lions own a 7-4-2 record in University Park this season. As good as Penn State may be at home, Notre Dame has been even better on the road. A Casey Mittlestadt goal in overtime of Friday’s 1-0 loss to Minnesota ended the perfect road record of the Irish, but I expect them to get back to their winning ways this weekend and sweep Penn State. Cale Morris will be tested early and often, but much like in the last series against Minnesota, I expect he’ll continue to make his case for the being the best goaltender in the nation.