While all eyes will be on the Fiesta Bowl early today, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team will also be in action tonight, returning home from the semester break for a non-conference series against the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
- When: Saturday, January 1, 5pm ET (Game 1); Sunday, January 2, 5pm ET (Game 2)
- How to Watch: Streaming on Peacock (Games 1 & 2)
Notre Dame enters January as the #10 ranked team in the country, fresh off of a series split against the Michigan State Spartans that saw them maintain their fourth place standing in the Big Ten. While this weekend will do nothing for their place in the conference, it is a chance for the Irish to build some momentum to start the new semester, where they will play seven games in the first nineteen days of January.
The end of last semester against Michigan State saw the return of senior captain Jake Pivonka, who missed the first 15 games of the season due to injury. While the Irish lineup managed fairly well statistically without him, his experience and leadership will help this team through the end of the season. January will also see the return of sophomore Landon Slaggert, who will be re-joining the Irish from Team USA after the cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Notre Dame has been remarkably consistent on both ends of the ice this season and throughout the entire lineup from top to bottom. They are outscoring and outshooting their opponents by significant margins while also serving fewer penalty minutes per game. Their penalty kill has been one of the best in the country all season and the goaltending has been strong as well. If there is an area of improvement that can see the Irish jump up the rankings in the second half of the season it would most likely be the power play, which is scoring just 18.6% of the time. That is 28th in the country and by far Notre Dame’s worst statistic.
The good news here is that Niagara is killing off only 74.6% of their penalties, a good rate but one that Notre Dame can also take advantage of. The Purple Eagles enter the weekend with a 4-10-2 record on the season while scoring only 1.88 goals per game and allowing 3.56. They have done a good job of suppressing opponents shot attempts, but it hasn’t translated into stopping goals or winning games so far. One key statistic is that Niagara is 0-7-1 when being outshot, so the Irish should put the puck on net early and often, something they’ve also done well so far this season.
Notre Dame and Niagara are not on the same level this season. This is a series, especially at home, where Notre Dame should be capable of winning both games convincingly. They can score at a high rate that the Purple Eagles simply haven’t shown they can match or stop this season. If the Irish can get on the power play a few times and score some goals it may very well be the kickstart they need to take the step up to top contender status this season. Either way, Notre Dame should come out of this weekend with two wins and the first two thirds of January will be very telling for the Irish season.