There’s no denying that Dylan St. Cyr has earned his opportunity in net.
Notre Dame’s senior netminder appeared in only 11 contests during his first three seasons on campus after being a mainstay for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program the two years prior.
This season, after splitting time in the fall with sophomore Ryan Bischel, St. Cyr has been coach Jeff Jackson’s guy during his final semester.
“Sometime in mid-January, I thought that Dylan started showing some positive signs, but the thing that probably opened the door mostly was that Ryan got injured,” Jackson said. “It opened the door for Dylan to play six straight games. We played Penn State, Ohio State and then he played both games against Michigan.
“I did give Ryan a game against Minnesota, but Dylan, even in those tough games against Michigan, I thought he played fairly well. I think he’s been more consistent, (and) he’s given us a chance to win every night.”
St. Cyr picked up back-to-back shutouts last weekend against Michigan State, making 27 saves on Friday and 29 on Saturday. They were his second and third shutouts of the season and gave him five for his career. The Irish close out the regular season by hosting Penn State this weekend.
“He’s made some real growth and he’s always been a confident kid,” Jackson said. “I never have to worry about that, but the big test for him is yet to come. As good as he has played, we need to give him some more help and try to score a few more goals because the games against the top-end teams, you’re not going to shut them out. He gave us good games against Minnesota and Michigan, but we didn’t win those games, so we have to find a way to give him more production so all the pressure’s not on him to get a shutout every night.”
St. Cyr waited mostly in the wings during his first three seasons at Notre Dame behind Cale Morris, who now plays for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. Jackson said he was impressed with how he carried himself despite not regularly playing in games.
“He’s a real intentional young man,” Jackson said. “He’s very focused and he knows what he’s doing in every aspect of life. He’s really good in the classroom, he’s focused academically, and he’s a good teammate, but I think the biggest thing is he’s so dialed in.
“He knows the position, he knows how to play it technically, and he’s very good at separating that technical aspect from his performance, which not every goalie can do. That gives him a real advantage.”
Wolverines travel to Minnesota looking to play spoiler
Michigan has faced its share of ups and downs this season, but it’s probably not wise to psychoanalyze the early-December series between the Gophers and Wolverines in Ann Arbor when it comes to making a prediction about this weekend.
The Gophers swept that weekend, winning 3-1 in 4-0 to extend their start to 8-0, but with the amount of talent for both teams that will be on Minnesota’s larger ice sheet this weekend that wasn’t at Yost Ice Arena in December, this one could be different.
Michigan’s young team was also a lot younger back in December.
“There’s nothing like playing the games and learning how you have to compete and what it takes to have success,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “If we’re not the youngest team, we’re one of the two or three youngest teams in college hockey and experience is so important. They got that on-the-job training, so you start the understand the urgency and how you need to play and how there’s different styles and how you have to be able to play against a skilled skating team versus a grinding hard-nosed team.”
Pearson said he thought he had the team in a good place, and then came the COVID-related pause.
“We’re still coming back from that, we’re still working our way back from that pause, but I do like the resiliency and the things that they’ve had to overcome, not only on the ice but off the ice,” he said.
The Wolverines typically prepare for the trip to Minnesota by skating at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, which has an Olympic-sized ice sheet like the one at the Gophers’ home rink, but Pearson said they were unable to do that this year because of the backlog of games and practices already being held at the arena.
Michigan picked up a win and tie against Arizona State last weekend and Pearson said that the challenge will now be to prepare for the style that the Gophers play compared to the Sun Devils.
“The pace is going to be a lot quicker and we’re going to have to make sure we’re on the right side of the puck defensively,” he said. “There will be some definite adjustments where we have to be a lot better, and they’re playing for a Big Ten championship, just like they were last year when we walked in there.”
Badgers hope to leapfrog Minnesota
If Michigan can topple Minnesota this weekend, it will give Wisconsin an opportunity to do something that it has not done since 2000 — win a regular-season conference championship.
Even with mathematical equations being brought into the picture due to an unbalanced schedule, the scenarios for Wisconsin are still rather simple. The Badgers can sweep Michigan State on the road this weekend and they would need Minnesota to lose once or tie twice. If Wisconsin wins and ties, the Gophers will need to lose twice or lose and tie. If the Badgers win once or tie twice, Minnesota needs to lose twice.
The opportunity to hang a banner would not be a fluke for Wisconsin as it has reeled in the Gophers since the calendar rolled over and posted a 12-3-1 record in the new year.
“We’re excited about where we’re at, but we also know that there’s still lots of hockey in front of us to play well in and try to continue to get better at,” UW coach Tony Granato said on Monday. “Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re on a good enough run that we should feel good about ourselves at how our games have gone, but we’re trying to focus on Friday night’s game and not look past it.”
Thinking about the title or not, goaltender Robbie Beydoun said that a solid performance against the Spartans this weekend would be key as the Badgers advance to the Big Ten Tournament and, hopefully, the NCAA tournament.
“It is really exciting, not too many teams that I’ve been on have a chance to win the regular season going into the last weekend,” he said. “Regardless of the standings and what could happen or could not happen, we want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs, right? We want to have our best weekend of the year because right after that there’s a quick turnaround heading into the Big Ten tournament.”