SOUTH BEND — The boxing-themed, “Let’s Take This Outside” Big Ten hockey game Saturday between Michigan and Notre Dame almost turned into a first-period knockout by the Wolverines.
Michigan, 1-3-6 since splitting an early November series with the Fighting Irish in Ann Arbor, got three first-period goals in the first 9:54 against Irish All-American Cale Morris, the first two within 16 seconds of each other, and beat No. 6 Notre Dame, 4-2, before 23,422 on the temporary ice sheet constructed in Notre Dame Stadium.
Mel Pearson’s Wolverines (7-7-6, 3-4-4-2 Big Ten) got goals by Joseph Cecconi at 4:42, Will Lockwood 16 seconds later and finally Nolan Moyle to stun Jeff Jackson’s Irish (12-6-1, 5-4-0-0), who got a second-period, power-play goal by Cam Morrison at 5:30 and a third-period goal by Alex Steeves at 17:12 with Morris pulled for a sixth attacker.
Dakota Raabe clinched Michigan’s first victory since a 6-4 win at Penn State Nov. 16 with an unassisted empty-net goal at 19:48.
“Great event, hard-fought game,” said Pearson, who replaced Michigan coaching legend Gordon “Red” Berenson before the start of last season. “Huge points in the standings for us. We played well and played hard.”
Morris finished with 38 saves, eight more than his junior counterpart Hayden Lavigne, who got a little revenge for surrendering Jack Evans’ game-winning goal with 5.2 seconds remaining last April in Notre Dame’s 4-3 victory in the Frozen Four at Saint Paul, Minn.
“You’d like to see the kids win so they can have a positive memory,” said Jackson, whose Irish return to the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena to play Big Ten rival Minnesota next Friday and Saturday nights. “We played hard. They (Michigan) have improved a lot since we last played them.”
Michigan, which was playing without standouts Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris, who were skating later Saturday night for Team USA against Finland at Toronto in the World Juniors championship game, is home Tuesday for a non-conference game against Merrimack and then travels to Ohio State for a two-game series Friday and Saturday.
The 143rd edition of the rivalry was moved outdoors on Oct. 29 after the National Hockey League had contracted with Notre Dame to bring its Jan. 1 game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins to “The House That Rockne Built.” It was Notre Dame’s third outdoor game — the Irish beat Miami (Ohio) 2-1 in 2013 and then lost to Boston College at Fenway Park 4-3 in 2014 — and the eighth for Michigan, which is now 4-3-1 playing outdoors.
The game started at 4:30 p.m. — an hour later than planned — to prevent problems with sun glare. The temperature was 49 degrees at the start — 14 degrees warmer than Tuesday’s NHL game.
“Yesterday (Friday) we practiced in the morning in full sunshine,” Jackson said. “We probably should have practiced at dusk because Cale lost a few pucks.”
Cecconi, a senior defenseman, cleared the puck from inside his own end, about 125 feet from Morris, who sported a Notre Dame-logoed ski cap as he did in Friday’s practice sessions. The puck took a weird hop when it landed in the Irish zone and bounced past the Irish goaltender at 4:42.
“I’ve seen weird goals before and that one is right up there,” Pearson added. “That first goal was a huge break for us because it got us off to a good start.”
After the faceoff, Pastrujov found Lockwood in the Irish zone, and the junior right wing, with Irish defenseman Bobby Nardella draped on him, fought to control the puck before batting it toward Morris — and then seeing it go behind the Irish goalie at 4:58.
Just after Notre Dame killed off a penalty, Michigan made it 3-0 at 9:54 when Moyle beat Morris over his shoulder with a 10-footer.
With the sun behind the horizon to start the second period but a glare on the ice from the lights above the west stands, the Irish walked from the football locker room, past the “Play Like A Champion” sign, down the tunnel and out onto the ice before the Wolverines even made their way through the tunnel.
Morris was back in the net, sans his ski cap, and he was back being himself. The Irish got a quick power-play advantage when Pastujov went off for hooking at 1:06 but the Wolverines had the best scoring opportunity when Brendan Warren broke in alone and Morris made a save on his shot.
Notre Dame averted the shutout with Michigan’s Griffin Luce off for tripping at 5:08. Peeke took a feed from Malmquist at the point and threw the puck in front to Morrison, who fought off Martin and directed the puck behind Lavigne at 5:30.
Late in the contest, the Irish got another power-play opportunity with Morgan off for interference at 14:37. Jackson called a timeout at 15:37 and then pulled Morris when play resumed to give the Irish a 6-on-4 skating advantage.
Notre Dame took advantage at 17:12 when freshman Jake Pivonka won a faceoff and fellow freshman Alex Steeves fired the puck past Lavigne.
“It was obviously a great event,” Peeke said. “It was special to be a part of it. While it was disappointing we didn’t win the game, we pushed back and didn’t give up after we went down 3-0.”
MICHIGAN 4, NOTRE DAME 2
At Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend
Michigan 3 0 1—4
Notre Dame 0 1 1—2
First Period—1. Michigan, Joseph Cecconi 2 (Nick Pastujov, Nick Blankenburg) 4:42; 2. Michigan, Will Lockwood 6 (Nick Pastujov) 4:58; 3. Nolan Moyle 2 (Dakota Raabe, Luke Martin) 9:54. Penalties: Michigan 1-2, Notre Dame 1-2.
Second Period—4. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 7 (Andrew Peeke, Bobby Nardella) 5:30 (ppg). Penalties: Michigan 2-0, Notre Dame 0-0.
Third Period—5. Notre Dame, Alex Steeves 6 (Jake Pivonka) 17:12; 6. Michigan, Dakota Raabe 3 (unassisted) 19:48. Penalties: Michigan 1-2 (4-8), Notre Dame 1-2 (2-4).
Shots on goal—Michigan 16-14-12—42; Notre Dame 11-11-10—32.
Power-play opportunities—Michigan 0 of 2; Notre Dame 1 of 4.
Goalie saves—Michigan, Hayden Lavigne 11-10-9—30; Notre Dame, Cale Morris 13-14-11—38.
A: 23,422. Time: 2:52.
Records: Michigan 7-7-6, 3-4-4-2 Big Ten; Notre Dame 12-6-1, 5-4-0-0 Big Ten.