After ending the first semester on a high note with a win and series split, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team is back on the ice this weekend with a pair of games straddling the new year. Notre Dame will open their second semester slate by closing out their non-conference schedule as they welcome the Alaska Nanooks to South Bend.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
- When: Saturday December 31, 5:00pm ET (Game 1); Sunday January 1, 5:00pm ET (Game 2)
- How to Watch: Streaming on Peacock (Games 1 and 2)
Last time they were on the ice Notre Dame beat #5 ranked Penn State to end their opening semester on a high note. That capped a series split though, which has been the story of the season so far for the 8-8-2 Irish. Notre Dame has fallen in the rankings since the beginning of the season, now ranked #17/19. They are also currently sixth of seven in the Big Ten conference standings. They’ll need to start stringing some wins together and go on a run to position themselves well for the postseason.
Notre Dame’s biggest strength once again has been in net this season, where Ryan Bischel has been outstanding after a rocky start. He has played to a .925 SV% this season and only a 2.64 GAA. Also on the good side statistically for the Irish has been Nick Leivermann, who is second on the team with 12 points despite missing four games due to injury. The team leader in points this season is Ryder Rolston, who is back on track with goals in his last two games and a point in his last three after hitting a rough patch for a few weeks.
The Irish have struggled on special teams though and that will be the first improvement that needs to be made to turn things around. Notre Dame, a year after leading the country, has killed off only 77.3% of penalties, which has them in the bottom third of the country. Even worse than the kill though has been the power play converting on only 15% of chances. Again that puts them in the bottom third of the country. Those are not rankings that being to a team with postseason aspirations and the fact that Notre Dame has as good a record as they do with those rates is impressive, but they’ll need to improve special teams to get the team going in the right direction.
Alaska is better than Notre Dame right now on special teams, but not by much, sitting just a few spots ahead of the Irish in both power play success and penalty kill. They’ve also excelled in goal, with senior netminder Matt Radomsky carrying the biggest load. He has a .917 SV% in 18 games but has played to only a 1.95 GAA, meaning he does see many shots and stops the ones he does. Notre Dame will have to do a good job of converting the chances they get and they may need to try to force some offense to make the Nanooks defense uncomfortable.
Ultimately these two teams are very similar statistically. Notre Dame has played a tougher schedule to get to this point though, and being at home with a long distance travelled for Alaska certainly plays to their advantage. The Irish will be looking to sweep this series to start things off strong going into the second half of the season. That is definitely possible and I expect the Irish to take at least one game if not both.