After a rough start to conference play, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish got two important victories last weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers. Friday’s win in regulation and Sunday’s win in overtime propelled the Irish to third in the conference. This weekend, they’ll have an equally important series as they welcome the Michigan State Spartans to Compton Family Ice Arena.
WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW TO WATCH
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
When: Friday, Jan. 25, 7:30 P.M. ET (Game 1) and Saturday, Jan. 26, 7:00 P.M. ET (Game 2)
Watch: NBC Sports Chicago+, NBC Sports Philadelphia+, SportsNet New York (Friday) and NBC Sports Chicago+, SportsNet New York (Saturday)
Much like the Wisconsin series, this weekend will feature two teams in the middle of a tight Big Ten. The Spartans are 4th in the conference at 19 points, just one point behind the Irish. The Ohio State Buckeyes own a comfortable 8 point lead over the second place Minnesota Golden Gophers, but after that, only 4 points separate the second place Gophers from the last place Penn State Nittany Lions. Translation – every conference game is crucial right now.
A lot of pressure has been put on second year head coach Danton Cole to return the Spartans to their past glory. During the 80’s and 90’s, when coached by the legendary Ron Mason, Michigan State seemed like a lock to make the tournament every year. However, since 2008, they have only one tournament appearance. The year before Cole took over, they won 7 games, their lowest total since the 70’s. This year, however, they find themselves 26th in the Pairwise rankings.
The Irish have had the Spartans’ number dating back to their Big Ten championship run last season. The teams met in East Lansing earlier this season, with the Irish winning 3-1 and 2-1 respectively. In 4 games last season, Notre Dame outscored Michigan State 14-7. Michigan State’s lone victory against Notre Dame came in the final game of the regular season, long after Jeff Jackson’s team had the conference championship clinched. In that game, Michigan State forward Mitchell Lewandowski found the back of the net twice. Lewandowski finished the season with a team high 19 goals, and already has 11 in 24 games this season.
The most encouraging thing about last weekend’s series against Wisconsin was the play of Notre Dame forward Michael Graham. The 21 year old from Eden Prairie, MN scored twice in each game and was clearly the difference maker against the Badgers. The performance earned Graham the honor of Big Ten First Star of the Week, and Notre Dame will hope his hot streak continues this weekend on home ice.
I was bit worried after all the bad breaks the Irish got in the Minnesota series two weeks ago, but I’m no longer hitting the panic button after how they responded on the road against a good Wisconsin team. Returning home to Compton against a team they’ve already swept once this season has me feeling good about this matchup, and I believe the Irish sweep the Spartans again, this time with legendary organist Paul Cartier in attendance!