Notre Dame was treated to a month of home cooking to start off the season this year, but eight games in a row at the friendly confines of Compton Family Ice Arena only left the Irish with a 4-3-1 record.
The season started off strong with a sweep of Alabama Huntsville, but next was a tie and loss against Denver and splits with Sacred Heart and Omaha.
When the calendar changed to November, it also brought a change of venue for Notre Dame as the Irish headed on their first road trip of the season and swept Ohio State in their first Big Ten series.
“It was probably our best performance of the year, thus far,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of Friday’s 4-1 win and Saturday’ 3-2 victory over Ohio State. “We got two really good games out of our goaltender and our defensive corps, which I’d kind of been waiting for as far as our defensive corps. I thought that they showed what they’re capable of, with the group of defensemen we have back there. They finally, at least for the time being, lived up to their potential.”
Playing at home for the first month of the season wasn’t by design, it was a direct result of the Irish joining the Big Ten. Jackson said that the team was tentatively scheduled to play a couple Big Ten teams in nonconference games this season before Notre Dame joined the conference.
“We had to scramble to find games to play in the early part of the year nonconference wise,” he said.
Jackson, like many coaches, said he sees many benefits of being able to take the team on the road.
“It’s so much better as far as your focus and the team’s camraderie, things like that all come into play when you’re on the road and spending time together,” he said. “It’s a much more focused environment where you’re not surrounded by everything going on at school, on campus and family in town or other stuff.
“It was good to get on the road and hopefully we do continue to play well when we do go on the road, which will start occurring a lot more in the next month.”
Notre Dame fans probably remember some of the Big Ten members from the old CCHA, but for the actual Notre Dame team playing a conference game against the likes of Ohio State was a new experience, something that will occur more often as the Irish start playing a steadier stream of conference games.
“Our coaching staff has played in all these buildings before, but our current team has not,” Jackson said. “Every time we go into a building, it’s going to be a new experience for us. It’s kind of like when we started in Hockey East, every venue, every team, the style of play, the officiating, all those things are different and you have to get acclimated.”
The sweep against Ohio State helped get the Irish back on track but going forward they will be aided by getting some players back from injury. Dylan Malmquist returned last weekend and Andrew Ogelvie and Joe Wedwerth should be back soon.
“This weekend might be the first week all season that we have our whole lineup, so I’m kind of excited to see what we have,” Jackson said. “Every time you have an injury it disrupts your line combinations, your power play, your penalty kill, especially when it’s guys that are in the top half of your lineup.”
One player that has been consistently in the lineup is senior forward Jake Evans, who leads the nation in scoring with 18 points. Evans picked up a goal and two assists during Saturday’s 3-2 win over Ohio State, a night after he told Jackson that he “didn’t feel like he was playing very well.”
“That’s the type of kid he is,” Jackson said. “He’s our captain for a reason — he plays both ends of the ice and he plays in all situations. I’m just glad when I see guys like that get rewarded. He’s getting points, but it’s not like he’s out searching for them.”
This weekend Notre Dame will return home and host its first ever Big Ten series. The opponent is Penn State, who might be the conference foe that the Irish are most familiar with after playing each other the past two seasons.
“They’re a hard team to play against and that’s the sign of a good team,” Jackson said of Penn State. “They play high-tempo, they get a lot of shots on goal and they’re a tough matchup for anybody.”
Jackson said one of the important things about playing a team that gets a lot of shots is to not let their shot count surprise you.
“The most important thing is you just have to be willing to accept that,” he said. “When you’re looking up at the scoreboard and you see that they’re outshooting you 30-15 in the second period you have to minimize the high-profile shots. You have to minimize the quality scoring chances.”
The Nittany Lions have also been giving up their fair share of goals recently.
“On the other side, we want to put pressure on them,” Jackson said. “We have to be in attack mode as well. We can’t sit back and let them shoot at free will. We have to possess the puck and minimize the time that they have the opportunity to be on offense.”
Assistants to lead Wisconsin in Granato’s absence
This weekend will be the first time this season that Tony Granato steps away from the team to fulfill his USA Hockey duties.
Granato will coach Team USA at the Deutschland Cup in Germany this weekend.
That means that the Badgers will be in the hands of associate head coaches Mark Osiecki and Mark Strobel this weekend when they face Michigan on the road.
“I wouldn’t think there’s going to be any change at all,” Osiecki said. “It’s been a consistent message from us as a staff. The message has been the same. I don’t see any change.”
Osiecki said that there still wasn’t a concrete plan in place concerning who would be on the bench and who would oversee the forwards or defense. Osiecki joined the Wisconsin staff with Granato last season. He was the head coach at Ohio State from 2010 to 2013 and spent six years before that as an assistant for the Badgers.
“It’s a different challenge because there’s so many different things to balance,” he said. “You have to manage your time the right way. I think you have to manage your emotions the right way, it’s always fun to be able to do that again. As a head coach for 10 years, you miss that.”
Three stars of the week
First star — Minnesota junior goaltender Erick Schierhorn: Schierhorn stopped 46 of the 47 shots he saw last weekend against Michigan State. He picked up his 50th career victory and 10th career shutout on Saturday when the Gophers beat the Spartans 4-0. This is his ninth career Big Ten weekly award.
Second star — Notre Dame sophomore goaltender Cale Morris: Morris made 62 saves last weekend when the Irish swept Ohio State on the road. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.
Third star — Michigan junior forward Cooper Marody: Marody tallied five points last weekend during Michigan’s split with Ferris State. He scored a goal and had two assists during Thursday’s win and had a goal and assist in Friday’s overtime loss. This is his second career Big Ten weekly award.
B1G in the poll
No. 4 Minnesota, No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 19 Penn State represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Michigan was the top unranked vote-getter.
1. St. Cloud State
2. North Dakota
6. Minnesota State
9. Notre Dame
11. Minnesota Duluth
12. New Hampshire
14. Boston University
17. Ohio State
18. Bemidji State
19. Air Force
This week’s matchups
Wisconsin at Michigan State (Friday and Saturday, Munn Ice Arena)
Penn State at Notre Dame (Friday and Saturday, Compton Family Ice Arena)
Minnesota at Michigan (Friday and Saturday, Yost Ice Arena)
Ohio State at Connecticut (Friday and Saturday, XL Center