Like many other teams across the country, Notre Dame’s first half has had its ups and downs.
The Irish have a 4-4-0 record and will get a chance to add to their Big Ten wins column when they host Michigan State this weekend.
The season started with a sweep at the hands of Wisconsin before Notre Dame went on the road and swept Michigan. Splits have been the name of the game for the last two series, including last weekend against Ohio State.
“Our biggest issue the past couple games has been playing a full 60 minutes,” Notre Dame defenseman and captain Nate Clurman said. “In the past, we’ve made it a priority to be a disciplined team, but penalties have really hurt us the last couple games. Our kill has been strong in some parts and our power play needs to start providing a little more for us, but I think we’re finding our step.”
A look at the polls, where teams with losing records currently hold top-10 positions, says that Notre Dame isn’t alone in having a ho-hum first half.
“Minnesota right now at the top, their undefeated streak is pretty impressive, especially in our league,” Clurman said. “We think that we can be right there up there with them, and I know every other team does as well.”
Clurman said that jumping right into Big Ten play made this season “evermore challenging.” The junior from Boulder, Colo., who was named team captain this season as a junior, was complimentary of how the team has handled that challenge and the numerous other things that 2020 has tossed its way.
“This year has dealt challenges to everyone involved, from scheduling games at an administrative standpoint all the way down to the players and staff,” he said. “The team that is going to do the best is really the team that’s going about their day-to-day business like they have a job to do. The teams that are going to keep their mission and focus throughout all the distraction and hiccups along the way is going to come out on top.”
To come out on top, the Irish will probably need to get a little more production out of their offense. They’ve scored more than three goals in a game once this season, a 5-4 win over Arizona State. Notre Dame is generally thought of as a defensive team, but Clurman says they have more to offer offensively.
“We’ve got a great ‘D’ corps, and obviously a lot of people see us as a defensive-structured team, but we’ve also got some forward firepower that I think has more potential than we’ve showed in this first couple games and has been doing well, but we’ve got a little more to give,” he said.
After tallying three assists during his freshman year and nine last year, Clurman added goal-scoring to his resume this season by lighting the lamp three times so far. He said that jumping up into the rush has been a point of emphasis, but it’s important make defense a priority and work outward from there.
“It’s a big timing thing,” Clurman said. “In the past couple years, you learn to pick your spots a little better and have more confidence to get up there and know that you can recover and your spacing is good.”
With a second-half schedule hopefully on the horizon but not announced yet, Notre Dame’s games against the Spartans are an opportunity to give the Irish something to feel good about as the head into the holiday break and the unknowns of 2021.
“They’re so important, especially with the break coming up, you want to have a strong ending coming into break,” Clurman said. “Hopefully, we can have a great week of practice and come in with a business mindset for this weekend and take care of the job so we can go into break with a positive attitude and work towards something in the second half.”
Buckeyes wrap up first half still looking for consistency
Another team that has yet to gain its footing is Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, who had an 0-3-0 start to their campaign, will try to climb back to a .500 record this weekend when they host a nonconference series against Arizona State.
“When you dig into it, we’re certainly not where we need to be or where we want to be,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “Consistency is the biggest thing and part of that is having the opportunity to have your team on the ice and part of that is preparation and practice.”
Rohlik emphasized that the one thing he wanted to reflect on was simply the fact that they are fortunate enough to be playing games.
“I think everyone’s kind of searching, it’s mentally-exhausting, we’re asking these guys to do something that’s never been done,” he said. “They’re trying to stay safe and healthy during a pandemic, yet still go to school and take care of their academics and not do the things that they’re normally used to every day of their lives.
“We might be testing six days a week, but testing is not a vaccine. Testing is just trying to prevent this from spreading. So, you’ve got to give credit to the athletes in the Big Ten right now, what they’re doing and the sacrifices they’re making every day to try and make this thing work.”
The Buckeyes have lost several key players over the past couple seasons. With a younger squad, nonconference games would have been a nice opportunity to get their feet under them, but that wasn’t in the cards this year.
“This was certainly the year where you wished you had more preparation and more time, it was kind of the perfect storm, but I think a lot of other teams are in the same boat,” Rohlik said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys and we are going to have to score by committee and we’re going to have to have really good special teams.
“For us, that’s the way it is. New personality and new team.”
Rohlik was complimentary of senior goalie Tommy Nappier and said that the key would be to build from the netminder out.
“We’ve probably given up more shots this year in games than we have in a long time, but (Nappier has) given us a chance and, hopefully, he can continue to be consistent back there buy us time until we can hit our stride,” said Rohlik.
Rohlik said it feels like he’s seen a lot of Arizona State this year, as it seems that all the tape he’s watched of previous opponents had them playing the Sun Devils. ASU comes into town on a three-game slide, but he is expecting a test.
“They like to score goals and they put pressure on you,” Rohlik said. “We knew that when we had the opportunity to put them on our schedule as a league, they’ve been as good as anybody in the country over the last few years.”
Gophers are No. 1
For the first time since November 2014, Minnesota is the top-ranked team in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.
It’s a deserved ranking, too, as the Gophers are off to an 8-0 start. Minnesota has not trailed this season and has outscored its opponents by a 27-8 clip.
Minnesota coach Bob Motzko spoke about the team’s first half after they downed Michigan 4-0 last week, saying, “It’s a special group, but I’ve been telling you that for a while. Maybe there’s a little validation to it now.”