For the first time since October 14-16, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team is coming off of a series sweep. It was a streak that saw them fall to sixth place in the Big Ten standings (before rebounding the last few weeks) and out of the NCAA tournament according to their Pairwise ranking. Notre Dame was able to take advantage of the last place Wisconsin Badgers visiting South Bend, and they now sit 4th in the Big Ten and 14th in Pairwise. A strong close to the season can solidify their tournament hopes.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
- When: Friday, January 3, 7:00pm ET (Game 1); Saturday, February 4, 4:00pm ET (Game 2)
- How to Watch: Streaming on BTN+
With their sweep last week has righted somewhat righted the ship, but there is still work to do. Once again their leading man was in net, with Ryan Bischel making 55 saves on the weekend while allowing 4 goals. He has now been added to the Hobey Baker ballot with his performances this season, joining Trevor Janicke and Nick Leivermann (you can vote daily until March 5 here). Bischel leads the country in saves at 879 and is fifth with a .928 SV%. It is tough in a league as offensive and talented as the Big Ten, but shot suppression needs to be a priority for Notre Dame in order to keep Bischel fresh for the remainder of the season.
A sweep wasn’t the only skid that Notre Dame managed to break last weekend, as their power play finally stepped up as a difference maker. The Irish scored five power play goals last weekend, including all three goals in their game two win. They’ve raised their success rate to 18.2% but if they can continue to score like they did last weekend that will climb even higher. Ryder Rolston assisted on a goal on Sunday, bringing him up to a team leading 20 points on the season. Nick Leivermann, back after missing four games, also picked up two assists of his own. Those two have been the driving force behind the Irish offense all season, but last weekend they were joined by some depth pieces which was enough to power the two wins.
Last time the Irish and Spartans met was in South Bend in October. They split that series with Notre Dame winning big in the first game and Michigan State edging by in overtime in the second. Notre Dame has now moved ahead of Michigan State in the conference standings with 26 points, two ahead of the sixth place Spartans. This series will go a long way to determining how these two teams will be set up for the final two weeks of the season.
Given Notre Dame’s play last weekend, if this series was at home, I would have no problem saying the Irish should be looking at sweeping both games. Given that it is a road series though that becomes more difficult. I would expect another split series, but wouldn’t be surprised if Notre Dame came away with both wins. If they can pull that off they will put themselves in great position going into the final two series of the regular season.