For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the hockey team's inaugural season in the Big Ten couldn’t be off to a better start. Since dropping three of their first eight games, the Irish have won thirteen straight, including ten against conference opponents. Perhaps the most impressive part of their hot start - they’re the only team in the nation without a road loss, going perfect in eight road games thus far.
The Irish will look to continue that trend on Friday night as they head into historic Yost Arena, which is always a hostile environment, where they will take on the Michigan Wolverines. Mel Pearson, in his first year as head coach of the maize and blue, is replacing the legendary Red Berenson, who will have the rink at Yost dedicated to him on Friday night. Pearson inherited a team that finished 6 games under .500 and didn’t make it past the Big Ten quarterfinals last season.
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Game 1) and Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN (Game 2)
When: Friday, Jan. 5, 6:30 p.m. EST (Game 1) and Sunday, Jan. 7, 3:05 p.m. EST (Game 2)
Watch: Big Ten Network (Game 1) and NBC Sports Network (Game 2)
Tale of the Tape
The Wolverines head into the weekend series at an even 8-8-2 and have the advantage of already having returned from break. Michigan split their two games of the Great Lakes Invitational by losing to the eventual champion Bowling Green Falcons and defeating their rival Michigan State Spartans. However, they were without Will Lockwood, Josh Norris and Quinn Hughes who are busy representing Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Buffalo, NY. Notre Dame’s lone representative at World Juniors is sophomore defenseman Andrew Peeke.
The player to watch out for on the Wolverines is Cooper Marody, who is tied for the NCAA lead in scoring and was just named Big Ten Star of the Week after recording four points in the GLI, including a hat trick against the Spartans. Marody is a 2015 sixth round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, and will be a challenge for Irish goaltender Cale Morris, who has emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Irish. There was a lot of uncertainty with the departure of Cal Petersen, but Morris has filled the void by posting an impressive .954 save percentage and a record of 15-1-0. Not bad for a guy who played one period of hockey last season.
On the Notre Dame offensive end, I’m interested to see how senior captain Jake Evans performs coming fresh off his Spengler Cup Championship with Team Canada over the break. Evans, a 2014 seventh round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, is coming off an impressive 2016-17 season where he finished with 42 points. However, he has taken it to another level this year, currently tied with Marody and Wade Allison of the Western Michigan Broncos with 28 points. He’ll look to have a big series against a Michigan team that has a GAA of 3.46 thus far.
Of course, these two schools are bluebloods of college football. It’s one of the great rivalries that gets talked about, and has produced some historic moments. For me, the most exciting thing about Notre Dame joining the Big Ten in hockey is the fact that they’ll play Michigan at least four times year. While nothing can compare to the rivalry that has developed when these two schools get together on the football field, considering where Michigan has consistently been as a hockey program, and the direction Notre Dame has been in since coach Jeff Jackson took over in 2005, all the ingredients are there for this to be a lot of fun for years to come. The last time these teams met was in 2016, when the Wolverines defeated the Irish in overtime to advance to the NCAA Midwest Regional final.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe the Irish will quite mirror what the football team did in the last meeting by beating Michigan 37-0 (never forget the six). Being born and raised just south of Detroit, my hate for the Michigan Wolverines runs deep, in fact, I’d say I have more hate in my heart for Michigan than any other school. Some of you may dislike other schools more, but if you do, it’s likely because you don’t have to constantly put up with their fan base. Few things in sports, or life for that matter, make me happier than seeing Michigan lose. Based on how these teams match up, I predict the Irish will continue their remarkable streak of never having lost a game in the history of the Big Ten, and sweep the Wolverines in both games of this Friday-Sunday home-and-home. Cal Burke scored a hat trick in ND’s last game, against Wisconsin. Thanks to the break, this seems like forever ago, but look him for him to have another impressive series against Michigan.