We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team having lost three straight for the first time all season. Everything was going right for the Irish, who on February 9th defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 2-1 at home to clinch the Big Ten regular season championship. Since then, Notre Dame has gone 0-3, getting outscored 10-3 in the process.
The time to turn things around is winding down, though, as #3 Notre Dame (22-8-2, 16-5-1-1) will welcome the Michigan State Spartans (11-19-2, 5-15-2-1) to Compton Family Ice Arena. The series is the final series of the regular season.
The Spartans are coming off a series split with the Penn State Nittany Lions last weekend. Michigan State will not be playing for a whole lot more than pride this weekend. They’re currently last in their conference and failed to garnish any votes in any major college hockey poll.
Coming off getting swept last week in a home and home by the Michigan Wolverines, the Irish, to no surprise, saw themselves drop in the two major college hockey polls this week. Formerly ranked number one going into the last weekend, Notre Dame now has the fifth spot in the USCHO.com poll and the third spot in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. They’ll look to enter next month’s B1G tournament on a high note.
After the emotional win against Ohio State two Fridays ago, there was concern the Irish might let off the gas now that the top spot in the B1G Tournament is locked up. Unfortunately, this proved to be the case. Cale Morris, who had been outstanding all season, uncharacteristically allowed four goals in back to back games, against Ohio State and Michigan, respectively. He bounced back, allowing only one goal against Michigan at Yost Ice Arena on Sunday, but the Irish offense was silent, failing to find the back of the net. Morris, and the offense, will look to bounce back against a Michigan State team that has struggled all year and is last in the B1G.
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN (Games 1 and 2)
When: Friday, Feb. 23, 7:35 p.m. EST (Game 1) and Saturday, Feb. 24, 7:05 p.m. EST (Game 1)
Watch: NBC Sports Chicago Plus will show a 1 hour delay of Game 1, or you can stream Game 1 live on the NBC Sports app
Tale of the Tape
It’s been a rough go lately for the Spartans, who haven’t had a tournament appearance or conference winning record since the 2011-12 season. With first-year head coach Danton Cole at the helm, Michigan State’s struggles have continued. Their 18 points are far and away the worst in the B1G, the next closest are the Penn State Nittany Lions and Wisconsin Badgers, with 28.
In 32 games played this season, Michigan State has 79 goals, which is 12 fewer than anyone else in their conference. That offense should have a tough time against a Notre Dame team that is where are they are thanks in large part to the excellent play of their defense and starting goaltender. A bright spot for the Spartans offense is freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski, put together an impressive season, with 11 goals this season. Among B1G skaters, only Michigan’s Tony Calderone has found the net more times.
After running into some difficulty against the two teams right beneath them in the conference standings, the Irish can’t afford to go into the B1G Tournament Semifinal game at home on March 10th coming off a poor series against a team that on paper they should have no trouble with. The only two goals of last weekend’s series against Michigan came on the power-play, so it’ll be a relief if/when Notre Dame finally gets another even-strength goal. The player I’m watching this weekend will be Cal Burke. The forward from Boxborough, MA is enjoying a solid sophomore season, with 13 goals and 8 assists.
The Last Time
These two teams, known for their megaphone rivalry in football, met in East Lansing, MI in December. It also happened to be the same weekend they met in basketball on the Michigan State campus. The Irish, in the midst of their historic opening to B1G play, swept the Spartans, taking the first game 5-1 and the second 2-0. Burke scored was able to light the lamp for Notre Dame once in each game. Also contributing to the sweep were goals from Andrew Oglevie, Colin Theisen, and the captain Jake Evans. Morris only allowed one goal in that series, from Michigan State forward Taro Hirose in the second game.
Here's Jake Evans getting the Irish on the board with his seventh goal of the year pic.twitter.com/uMAPtwF7IW— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) December 2, 2017
I’m expecting the Irish to get a much needed confidence booster going into postseason play. Though the Spartans looked better last week by splitting with Penn State at home, this is still a team that really doesn’t have a lot to play for, and going on the road to play one of the premier teams in the nation should be too much for them. Notre Dame will have two weeks in between Sunday’s game with Michigan State and hosting the B1G tournament semifinal game, and they can’t afford to have another poor performance weigh on their mind for that long. Jeff Jackson will get his team into high gear, and I’m predicting the Irish sweep the final series of what has been an awesome regular season.