SOUTH BEND — A heavy dose of Cale Morris throughout allowed Notre Dame’s young hockey team to find its footing against a veteran and physical Western Michigan hockey team Friday night during a 1-1 overtime tie before a sellout crowd of 5,247 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Seniors Cam Morrison of Notre Dame and Luke Bafia of Western Michigan scored goals 53 seconds apart in the second period, Morris made 42 saves and his Western counterpart Brandon Bussi turned away 32 in the first of a home-and-home series that concludes Sunday beginning at 5 in Western’s Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo.
The tie followed a good start in the second half for coach Jeff Jackson’s 15th-ranked Irish, who started the season 7-0-1 but ended the first half with a 2-7-1 stretch that included six straight setbacks.
“We looked like we were in quicksand that first period,” Jackson said after the Irish (9-7-3) were outshot 13-2 in the first period. “We got better as the game progressed. Thank goodness Cale played as well as he did in the first period. Our best chance to win is when he plays at that level. He has to play well for us to have a chance to win.”
Coach Andy Murray’s 19th-ranked Broncos (7-7-3), a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, were the sixth ranked team the Irish were facing in the last seven weekends of play. Among the losses during that span were sweeps by No. 16 Bowling Green and No. 10 Boston College.
“We were kind of rusty in the first period coming off the break but as the game went on, we found our game,” said Morrison, whose fifth goal of the season was set up by Alex Steeves and Michael Graham at 9:49 of the second period. “Hopefully we can carry that energy into Sunday.”
The lead didn’t last long as Bafia found a small hole through a screen to Morris’ left to tie it at 10:42. Otherwise, it was another big game for Morris, who struggled in the first half of the season but saw his goals-against average drop to 2.70 and his saves percentage rise to .911 with his performance.
“We have confidence that Cale is going to make that big save, steal a goal here and there,” Morrison continued. “He keeps us calm.”
Both teams were skating without key players who were returning home with their USA teammates from the World Juniors Championship in the Czech Republic. The Broncos were without USA team captain and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson.
The Irish, meanwhile, were without two sophomores — center Jake Pivonka and defenseman Spencer Stastney — and that forced Jackson to reshuffle his lineup that included five seniors, four juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen. Murray countered with six seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.
All three USA players could play Sunday, and Jackson said he would talk with Pivonka and Stastney before inserting them in the lineup.
Morris had 37 saves for his ninth career shutout, a 3-0 blanking of Penn State on Dec. 14 to end the first half. He made 13 in the third period while his teammates managed one shot against the Nittany Lions.
Friday night, Morris made another 13 as Western Michigan outshot the Irish 13-2 in a scoreless first period. Three of the saves came on breakaways, the first two by Western’s Dawson DiPietro 39 seconds and 6:15 into the period.
Then with Morrison in the penalty box for tripping at 6:45, Morris made three straight saves at the doorstep on Paul Washe, and then turned aside a semi-breakaway by Jason Polin, who was pulled down by Tori Dello. Polin was awarded a penalty shot after the save, but Morris stuck out his right leg pad to keep the game scoreless.
Notre Dame finally got a shot on goal at 15:00 while on its second power play as Bussi denied Colin Theisen. The final Irish shot on goal was by defenseman Nick Leivermann with 10 seconds remaining in the period.
The Irish came out and outshot the Broncos 9-3 in the first 9:49 of the second period and scored the first goal of the game when Morrison’s second shot in close beat Bussi.
But the Broncos tied it 53 seconds later when the Irish couldn’t control the puck in their zone and Bafia beat Morris to his short side at 10:42.
Western’s Jared Kucharek hit the post and Morris made a left-pad save on Kale Bennett in the first five minutes of the third period. Meanwhile, his teammates had a 9-5 edge in shots in the first 10:08 before Morris robbed DiPietro again with a glove save on the Broncos’ wrist shot off a faceoff.
Bussi then turned away shots by Max Ellis, Leivermann, Nate Clurman, Graham and Leivermann before a stoppage of play at 13:46 as the Irish cut their shot deficit down to 35-29.
The Irish had one last chance when Theisen found Graham momentarily unguarded behind the Western defense with a minute to go. But Graham slid the puck back to Theisen instead of shooting it at Bussi and the game went to the five-minute overtime.
Bussi stopped Cal Burke’s semi-break shot 50 seconds into the extra period and then an apparent Western goal was disallowed at 1:10. O’Leary and Burke then had door-step pokes at the puck that Bussi denied 3:05 into the extra session.
NOTRE DAME 1, WESTERN MICHIGAN 1
At Lefty Smith Rink, South Bend
First Period—Scoring: None. Penalties: Western Michigan 2-4; Notre Dame 3-6.
Second Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 5 (Michael Graham, Alex Steeves) EV 9:49; 2. Western Michigan, Luke Bafia 1 (Rhett Kingston) EV 10:42. Penalties (total): Western Michigan 1-2 (3-6); Notre Dame 0-0 (3-6).
Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Western Michigan 0-0 (3-6); Notre Dame 0-0 (3-6).
Overtime—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Western Michigan 0-0 (3-6); Notre Dame 0-0 (3-6).
Power-play opportunities—Western Michigan 0 of 2; Notre Dame 0 of 3.
Faceoffs won—Western Michigan 32 (11-7-9-5); Notre Dame 27 (9-8-5-5).
Blocked shots—Western Michigan 25 (5-7-10-3); Notre Dame 16 (6-2-8-0).
Shots on goal—Western Michigan 43 (13-15-10-5); Notre Dame 33 (2-13-14-4).
Goalie saves—Western Michigan, Brandon Bussi 32 (2-12-14-4); Notre Dame, Cale Morris 42 (13-14-10-5).
Records—Western Michigan 7-7-3; Notre Dame 9-7-3.