2019 is off to an ugly start for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey squad. After dropping their outdoor game to the Michigan Wolverines, they were swept last week at home by the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Things won’t get any easier as this weekend, they travel west to play the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison on Friday night, then make their return to the United Center in Chicago on Sunday night.
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, WI (Game 1) and United Center, Chicago, IL (Game 2)
When: Friday, Jan. 18, 9:00 P.M. ET (Game 1) and Sunday, Jan. 20, 7:30 P.M. ET (Game 2)
Watch: ESPNU (Friday) and Big Ten Network (Sunday)
Coming into this season, many could have predicted that it would be tough for Cale Morris to duplicate his stellar Richter Award winning campaign from a season ago. After losing his second straight game last Friday night, coach Jeff Jackson decided to go with the younger Dylan St. Cyr in the second game of last weekend’s series. While St. Cyr looked comfortable in net, the Notre Dame offense could only give him a Jack Jenkins goal to work with. If things are going to turn around for the Irish fast, their netminders will need more help than the combined two goals from the offense last weekend.
Scoring goals will be tough against a Wisconsin team that is stellar on the blue line. Their two leading goal scorers, freshman K’Andre Miller and sophomore Wyatt Kalynuk, are both defensemen. It’s a defense that has surely improved from last year, when they allowed an embarrassing 3.96 goals per game.
Much like the Irish, the Badgers have struggled on the man advantage, scoring just 6 goals on 40 power-play opportunities. The only team worse than that in the Big Ten is the Irish, who have 3 power-play goals on 29 opportunities. Special teams will be an interesting area to watch this weekend.
In what has been a pretty tight Big Ten for most of the season, we’re now starting to see teams separate themselves. The Irish come into this weekend series with 15 points in the conference standings, one less than their opponent. A sweep for either team could potentially put them in last place in the Big Ten, as the only team with fewer points are the Michigan State Spartans, at 13.
Facing Wisconsin at the United Center brings back painful memories for Irish fans. It was there the Badgers ended Notre Dame’s perfect Big Ten inaugural season last year with a 5-0 shutout. Playing in professional sports venues will continue beyond this season for the schools, they’ll play each other in football at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2020 then Soldier Field in Chicago in 2021.
A sweep would do wonders for the Irish, and potentially the confidence of Cale Morris, but it just seems like it will be too tough for Notre Dame to light up the scoreboard like they did so often last season. I’m predicting the Irish to drop the first game in Madison, then avenge last season by winning at United Center.