After a week off, the #19 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team is back on the ice this weekend, closing out the first half of their season and fall semester by welcoming the Big Ten leading Penn State Nittany Lions to South Bend. Penn State comes into the weekend with a 14-4 record (6-4 in conference) and ranked #5 in the country. Notre Dame meanwhile sits at 7-7-2 with a conference record of 3-4-1, which puts them 6th of 7 ahead of only the Wisconsin Badgers. Wins this weekend over a top team would go a long way to propelling the Irish into the spring semester with some momentum.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
- When: Friday, December 9, 7:00pm ET (Game 1); Saturday, December 10, 6:00pm ET (Game 2)
- How to Watch: Streaming on Peacock (Games 1 and 2)
Before we get into the actual game analysis, being that it is the last home series before the holidays, Notre Dame will be having fun promotions all weekend to celebrate. Game one on Friday will be the annual teddy bear toss. Fans are encouraged to bring teddy bears or other stuffed animals to the game. After the game is over teddy bears will be tossed onto the ice and collected to be donated to local charities. If you’ve never seen a teddy bear toss look it up, they’re pure chaos and very entertaining. Notre Dame is cutting down some of the chaos by doing it after the game instead of when the first goal is scored, which is more common. At game two there will be an ugly sweater contest between periods and any student that wears an ugly sweater to the game gets a free t-shirt.
When Notre Dame last played two weeks ago they split their two games over Thanksgiving weekend, losing to the Boston University Terriers before beating the Boston College Eagles. That continues a trend for the Irish where they’ve split most series on their way to playing .500 hockey. They’re also losing game one in most series before evening things up in game two. The biggest problem for Notre Dame has been consistency so far, but there are some areas that they’ve struggled that they can turn around to improve things.
One of their main issues has been in their shooting percentage. The Irish are scoring on only 8.2% of their shots, which puts them 48th in the country. This team is far too talented for a shooting percentage like that, which tells me there is a lack of puck luck so far. That also plays into Notre Dame’s power play, which has been severely lacking so far, converting at only 12.3%. That is bad and the Irish will need to have better success on special teams if they want more success in the standings. Goaltending meanwhile has been a strength for the Irish as Ryan Bischel is sitting with a .924 SV%. He is seeing a lot of shots but is maintaining a high level of play through it.
Nick Leivermann has been excellent since missing the first few games of the season, but he now leads Notre Dame in goals with five which is a good number for a defenseman but not for a team leader. Ryder Rolston is second on the team with four goals, but he started hot and has cooled since. He has an excellent shot and the ability to score in bunches so getting him to break out could help ignite the offense. Landon Slaggert is another player who was expected to have a big role in the offense but has struggled, only scoring his first goal of the season against BU. Sometimes it only takes one to get things started and bring back some confidence so keep an eye on Slaggert this weekend.
The story of the season for Penn State is goals and lots of them. They’re sixth in the country with 65 goals scored and they’ve done it through only 18 games played. Their shooting percentage is nothing special and neither is their special teams, it is simply all about volume. Penn State leads the country in shots with 701, nearly 70 more than second place Michigan. The Irish defense will need to get in shooting lanes and block the puck, suppressing the shot numbers. Bischel will still be tested with his fair share of pucks but keeping the total down can help stop a high powered Nittany Lion offense.
Given their run of form and the strengths of this Penn State team it’s hard to think that Notre Dame will come away with a sweep this weekend. It will very likely come down to how Bischel plays in net and how well the Irish defense can suppress shots. If some of the offensive playmakers can step things up it would help a lot as well. Momentum can run dry after a few weeks off but it is still important for Notre Dame to try and end the first half on a high note, but I just don’t see them getting more than a split of the two games.