SOUTH BEND — Two Saturdays ago, Dylan Malmquist and his Notre Dame hockey teammates were reeling after Minnesota swept the Irish at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
A couple of days later, Malmquist, a senior center from Edina, Minn., was a man without an offensive line — his right wing Cal Burke undergoing an emergency appendectomy, following an upper-body injury sustained by his left wing, Cam Morrison.
Friday night, with Malmquist now skating on left wing with junior center Mike O’Leary and freshman right wing Michael Graham, the Irish rode four goals and seven assists from the trio in a 6-3 victory over Michigan State. Some of the 4,462 fans on hand left early as Notre Dame jumped to a 6-1 lead on Graham’s pair of power-play goals early in the final period.
Things can sure change in a hurry in hockey. The No. 11 Irish are now back in the Big Ten Conference race after gaining eight points of a possible nine in their last three league outings.
“You can never figure the game out — I’ve been doing this for a long time,” ND coach Jeff Jackson said after his current team beat his alma mater. “You lose three primary scorers (Notre Dame is without Joe Wegwerth for the season after knee surgery), and it causes your lines to change and you find something.”
Cal Burke, Morrison and Wegwerth had accounted for 23 goals before going to the disabled list in recent weeks.
Graham now has six goals and three assists in his three games, including a pair in each of last weekend’s away games against Wisconsin – a 6-4 win in Madison last Friday and a 2-2 tie (and shootout win) at Chicago’s United Center last Sunday.
Malmquist had a pair of goals to match his fellow Minnesotan, Graham, and added an assist. O’Leary, who hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, had four assists, two of them on Notre Dame’s three power-play goals in four chances.
“Mike O’Leary has stepped up as the first-line center. He’s grabbed a hold of it and run with it,” Jackson said. “Michael Graham — same thing. Neither one of them were getting power-play time, and all of sudden they get a chance on the power play and they take advantage of it. That’s what you hope happens, but you can never predict it.”
Graham is now one behind Malmquist in the goal-scoring category after Malmquist staked Notre Dame to a 2-0 lead at 2:48 of the second period with two goals.
Jackson was asked why Morrison, O’Leary and Graham have suddenly clicked.
“They are three of the smartest players we have on the team,” Jackson said. “Instincts — they all see the ice; they can all make a play.”
Malmquist, who played at Edina High School in the Twin Cities area, was familiar with Graham, a year younger who played at Eden Prairie. He’s not surprised that Graham has suddenly emerged.
“Our high schools are big rivals, so I’d seen him play and was impressed,” Malmquist said. “You notice in practice a lot that he has incredible hockey sense and vision. He’s really good with the puck and makes good puck decisions.”
Freshman Cam Burke and defenseman Tory Dello added goals 27 seconds apart late in the second period to give Notre Dame a 4-1 lead heading into the third period. Graham’s two power-play goals then made it 6-1 at 4:12 of the third period. The four goals came in a span of 5:52.
Junior goaltender Cale Morris stopped 49 Spartan shots, 18 in each of the last two periods, as the Irish improved to 14-8-2 overall and 7-6-1-1 in the Big Ten.
League-leading Ohio State was idle and has 29 points. Notre Dame stayed on second-place Minnesota’s heels, 24-23 points, with Michigan fourth at 21. The Irish have a two-game series next weekend at Ohio State and then have a 10-day break, after which Cal Burke and Morrison could be back for the stretch run.
Cody Milan scored a pair of goals for Danton Cole’s Spartans (9-13-3, 5-8-2-2 Big Ten), who trail the Wolverines by two and are two points ahead of Penn State and Wisconsin, tied for sixth place.
Michigan State’s line of center Patrick Khodorenko, left wing Taro Hirose and right wing Mitch Lewandowski tallied just one goal (by Hirose) and three assists (two by Khodorenko). Hirose and Milan combined to scored twice within 22 seconds halfway through the third period. Junior goalie John Lethemon made 25 saves for the Spartans.
“It wasn’t just about that (O’Leary) line,” Jackson said. “The fourth-line guys (junior Luke Novak and sophomores Pierce Crawford and Matt Steeves) gave us a lot of energy. And we had a freshmen line (center Jake Pivonka and wings Graham Slaggert and Alex Steeves) playing against the best line in college hockey. They played hard and they played smart.”
The two teams conclude their series Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.
NOTRE DAME 6, MICHIGAN STATE 3
At Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend
Michigan State 0 1 2—3
Notre Dame 1 3 2—6
First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Dylan Malmquist 7 (Michael Graham, Mike O’Leary) 16:30. Penalties: Michigan State 1-2, Notre Dame 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 2. Dylan Malmquist 8 (Bobby Nardella, Mike O’Leary) 2:48; 3. Michigan State, Cody Milan 5 (Patrick Khodorenko, Mitch Lewandowski) 6:25; 4. Notre Dame, Cam Burke 2 (Matt Hellickson, Colin Theisen), 18:20; 5. Notre Dame, Tory Dello 2 (Michael Graham, Mike O’Leary) 18:47. Penalties: Michigan State 1-2 (2-4), Notre Dame 2-4 (3-6).
Third Period—Scoring: 6. Notre Dame, Michael Graham 6 (Andrew Peeke, Mike O’Leary) 1:53; 7. Notre Dame, Michael Graham 7 (Dylan Malmquist, Bobby Nardella) 4:12; 8. Michigan State, Taro Hirose 12 (Patrick Khodorenko), 10:09; 9. Michigan State, Cody Milan 6 (Logan Lambdin, Adam Goodsir) 10:31. Penalties: Michigan State 3-6 (5-10), Notre Dame 2-4 (5-10).
Power-play opportunities—Michigan State 1 of 4, Notre Dame 3 of 4.
Shots on goal—Michigan State 13-19-20—52; Notre Dame 6-15-10—31.
Goalie saves—Michigan State, John Lethemon 5-12-8—25; Notre Dame, Cale Morris 13-18-18—49.
A—4,462. Time: 2:24.
Records: Michigan State 9-13-3, 5-8-2-2 Big Ten; Notre Dame 14-8-2, 7-6-1-1 Big Ten.