SOUTH BEND — By the way he carries himself on the ice, Notre Dame freshman right wing Michael Graham might remind some a little of the late, great right wing Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings.
Like the 6-foot, 205-pound Howe, who skated 26 years in the National Hockey League, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Graham stands erect on his skates and looks effortless yet powerful in everything he does, especially when shooting the puck.
There’s been no one hotter lately in college hockey putting the puck in the net than Graham, who scored two of Notre Dame’s three second-period goals Saturday night as the 15th-ranked Irish rebounded for a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin before 5,331 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The victory gave the Irish a weekend split of their Big Ten Conference series after Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory Friday night. Notre Dame, 16-11-3 overall, moved into sole possession of third place in the Big Ten at 9-9-2-2 for 31 points. The Irish travel next weekend to play second-place Minnesota (33 points), which completed a two-game sweep of league-leader Ohio State with a 4-3 victory in Columbus.
Graham’s goals were his ninth and 10th in a span of nine games dating back to a 6-4 Irish victory at Wisconsin Jan. 18 when coach Jeff Jackson paired him with center Mike O’Leary and left wing Dylan Malmquist.
“We’ve always known he had a lot of ability when we recruited him,” Jackson said. “He was a high-end kid out of high school (Eden Prairie) in Minnesota. It took him half a year to get his game back because he hasn’t played much hockey (because of injuries) in the last two years.”
When the comparison to Howe was brought up, Jackson, a diehard Red Wings fan in his youth, the Irish coach chuckled and said, “He (Graham) doesn’t have his (Howe’s) elbows.”
Following Friday’s disappointing loss, Jackson went with sophomore goalie Dylan St. Cyr, whose last start came Jan. 12 in a 2-1 home loss to Minnesota, instead of junior Cale Morris, who certainly hasn’t been the reason for Notre Dame’s records of 7-7-1 at home and 3-6-2 since New Year’s Day coming into Saturday’s game.
The Irish coach also mixed up his lines and defensive pairings, the most noticeable line change having center Jake Pivonka and left wing Colin Theisen skating with right wing Cal Burke.
St. Cyr finished with 32 saves, improving to 4-1 as a starter. Theisen, Pivonka and Cal Burke also picked up goals and Burke and defensemen Bobby Nardella and Andrew Peeke had two assists each as 10 different players registered points.
Daniel Lebedeff started in goal for Wisconsin and surrendered four goals. He made 18 saves over two periods. Jack Berry finished with eight saves for coach Tony Granato’s last-place Badgers (10-15-5, 6-9-5-2 Big Ten for 25 points).
For the second straight night, the Badgers scored first when Matthew Freytag banged his own rebound past St. Cyr at 2:25.
But the Irish tied it with the first of their three first-period, power-play opportunities. With Wisconsin’s Dominick Mersch in the box for holding, defenseman Matt Hellickson skated into the corner for a loose puck, shoveled it into the slot to Burke, who quickly fed it to Theisen in the opposite faceoff circle. Theisen’s blast beat Lebedeff at 9:28.
Wisconsin killed its next penalty but then had two more within a span of 75 seconds, giving the Irish a 5-on-3 advantage for 46 seconds. Lebedeff made a big save on Hellickson’s initial blast, but the Irish then got too cute passing around the perimeter. Eventually, the first penalty expired and then Theisen took a tripping penalty. There was no further damage as the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
The Badgers got caught with too many men on the ice at 1:29 and good puck movement by defensemen Bobby Nardella and Andrew Peeke set up Graham’s tip-in goal from the doorstep at 2:33 for a 2-1 Irish lead.
After St. Cyr made a couple of nifty saves on a Wisconsin power play in the eighth minute, Nardella sent Burke in with a nifty pass, and Burke drew a defenseman to him before shoveling a pass to Pivonka coming down the slot. The freshman directed it past Lebedeff for a 3-1 Irish lead at 12:04.
Graham then wasted little time wristing home a centering pass from Mike O’Leary from the deep slot that went off the inside of the post and behind Lebedeff at 18:37 for a 4-1 Irish lead. When the third period began, Granato inserted Jack Berry between the pipes to finish the game.
Wisconsin 1 0 1—2
Notre Dame 1 3 1—5
First Period—Scoring: 1. Wisconsin, Matthew Freytag 3 (Max Zimmer) 2:25 (even) 2. Notre Dame, Colin Theisen 8 (Matt Hellickson, Cal Burke) 9:28 (ppg). Penalties: Wisconsin 4-8, Notre Dame 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 3. Notre Dame, Michael Graham 10 (Andrew Peeke, Bobby Nardella) 2:33 (ppg) 4. Notre Dame, Jake Pivonka 2 (Cal Burke, Bobby Nardella) 12:04 (even) 5. Notre Dame, Michael Graham 11 (Mike O’Leary, Tory Dello) 18:37 (even). Penalties (total): Wisconsin 2-4 (6-12), Notre Dame 3-6 (4-8).
Third Period—Scoring: 6. Notre Dame, Cal Burke 10 (Cam Morrison, Andrew Peeke) 15:06 (ppg) 7. Wisconsin, Sean Dhooghe 10 (Jake Bunz, Jack Berry) 15:49 (even). Penalties (total): Wisconsin 2-4 (8-16), Notre Dame 1-2 (5-10).
Power-play opportunities—Wisconsin 0 of 3, Notre Dame 3 of 6.
Shots on goal—Wisconsin 14-11-9—34 Notre Dame 13-9-9—31.
Goalie saves—Wisconsin, Daniel Lebedeff 12-6-0—18 and Jack Berry 0-0-8—8 (team total 26) Notre Dame, Dylan St. Cyr 13-11-8—32.
A: 5,331. Time: 2:25. Records: Wisconsin 10-15-5, 6-9-5-2 Big Ten for 25 points Notre Dame 16-11-3, 9-9-2-2 Big Ten for 31 points.
Wisconsin 2, Notre Dame 1: Roman Ahcan redirected a pass from Brock Caufield past Irish goalie Cale Morris at 17:21 of the second period for the game-winning goal and Lebedeff made eight of his 30 saves in the final period for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s Linus Weissbach rebounded a shot past Morris at 5:31 of the first period on the power play, but Notre Dame’s Dylan Malmquist scored his team-high 10th goal at 15:52 to tie it. Morris finished with 35 saves for Notre Dame.
Wisconsin 1 1 0—2
Notre Dame 1 0 0—1
First Period—Scoring: 1. Wisconsin, Linus Weissbach 5 (Sean Dhooghe, Wyatt Kalynuk) 5:31 (ppg) 2. Notre Dame, Dylan Malmquist 10 (Tory Dello, Mike O’Leary) 15:52 (even). Penalties: Wisconsin 0-0, Notre Dame 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 3. Wisconsin, Roman Ahcan 5 (Brock Caufield, Josh Ess) 17:21 (even). Penalties (total): Wisconsin 0-0 (0-0), Notre Dame 0-0 (1-2).
Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Wisconsin 2-4 (2-4), Notre Dame 2-4 (3-6).
Shots on goal—Wisconsin 16-12-9—37 Notre Dame 10-13-8—31.
Goalie saves—Wisconsin, Daniel Lebedeff 9-13-8—30 Notre Dame, Cale Morris 15-11-9—35.
Power-play opportunities—Wisconsin 1 for 3, Notre Dame 0 of 2.