No. 16 Irish struggles at home continue in 5-1 loss to No. 8 Michigan

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Maybe what No. 16 Notre Dame’s hockey team needs to do is rent a Transpo bus to make the Irish feel like they are on the road.

 Undefeated on the road in four games this season, coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish fell to 3-7-1 inside their home, the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena, Thursday night as a deep, talented and big No. 8 Michigan team scored four unanswered goals in the second period on way to a 5-1 Big Ten Conference victory.

“It’s been a struggle for our team in this building and second periods have been our downfall,” said Jackson, whose Irish fell to 7-7-1 overall and 5-5-1-0-1-1 in the Big Ten for 18 points, two behind Mel Pearson’s Wolverines (9-6-0, 7-6-0-1-0-0 Big Ten for 20 points), who have won four of their five games since the Christmas break while outscoring the opposition 25-6 in five games.

With the victory, the Wolverines moved ahead of the Irish into third place behind Minnesota (27 points) and Wisconsin (22), a 4-1 winner at Penn State.

“If you eliminate the second period, we played okay,” added Jackson, whose team swept the Wolverines in Ann Arbor after Thanksgiving by 3-2 and 2-1 scores. “They just had too many good scoring chances in front of our net. We didn’t do a good job picking people up in the defensive zone. It was a big turnaround from last weekend.”

The Irish came into the series off a 3-2, 2-1 sweep of then No. 1-ranked Minnesota in Minneapolis last weekend. But Michigan dominated the middle period, outshooting the Irish 15-9 and scoring four times to turn a scoreless game after the first period into a 4-0 rout heading into the final period.

Freshman left wing Kent Johnson, one of 15 Wolverines with heights of 6-foot or better, scored Michigan’s final two goals of the game. Fellow freshmen Thomas Bordeleau and Philippe Lapointe also scored along with sophomore defenseman Cam York, the 14th overall pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2019 NHL draft.

Freshman goalie Erik Portillo, a 6-foot-6, 225-pounder from Gothenburg, Sweden, who earned bronze for the Swedish Junior Team in the recent World Juniors tourney in which Team USA won gold, finished with 29 saves and an assist on York’s second-period goal. Two other freshmen – 6-foot-5 defenseman Owen Power and 6-foot-1 Matty Beniers – had three and two assists, respectively.

Down 5-0 in the third period, Notre Dame ended Portillo’s bid for a shutout when senior defenseman Matt Hellickson scored at 14:52 of the third period with assists from Colin Theisen and Michael Graham. Senior goalie Dylan St. Cyr, who was brilliant in beating Minnesota 2-1 last weekend, finished with 28 saves.

“A couple of the goals weren’t on him,” Jackson said. “That was more on breakdowns in our defensive zone when we didn’t do a good job picking people up. When there’s people coming at you with speed and pressure, you have to make the right decisions. Their freshmen have had time to acclimate and get some experience under their belts. We have to find a way to play to that level of desperation we had last weekend.”

The teams conclude their series Friday night at 6:30 and the Irish are likely to see junior goalie Strauss Mann, who came into the series with three shutouts including last week’s 5-0 whitewash of Ohio State.

The Wolverines killed off back-to-back minor penalties during a scoreless first period during which Notre Dame had an 8-7 advantage in shots. The Fighting Irish, who managed two power-plays last weekend to break a 0-for-18 drought with the man-advantage, managed just one shot on goal in the four minutes as Portillo’s teammates managed to block eight shots to go with the goalie’s eight saves, one more than the 5-foot-9 St. Cyr.

The Wolverines came out flying in the second period and scored the first of their four goals at 1:22 when Power skated to the mid-point and fired a shot through a maze of players that Bordeleau got a stick on to beat the screened St. Cyr. Moments later, Irish captain Nate Clurman went to the penalty box for tripping at 2:12 and the Wolverines kept up the pressure until LaPointe scored off a scramble in front at 3:28 to make it 2-0.

York made it 3-0 at 16:48 when he took a pass from goalie Portillo and skated into the Irish zone, around the net and beat St. Cyr. Johnson finished off the onslaught with 27.7 seconds remaining to make it 4-0 and then scored at 9:51 of the third period off a feed from Power while St. Cyr was playing without his stick.


At Lefty Smith Rink/Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend

Michigan 0-4-1—5

Notre Dame 0-0-1—1

First Period—Scoring: None. Penalties: Michigan 2-4, Notre Dame 0-0.

Second Period—Scoring: 1. Michigan, Thomas Bordeleau 5 (Owen Power, Brendan Brisson) EV 1:22. 2. Michigan, Philippe Lapointe 1 (Matty Beniers, Owen Power) PPG 3:28. 3. Michigan, Cam York 3 (Erik Portillo) EV 16:48. 4. Michigan, Kent Johnson 5 (Matty Beniers, Luke Morgan) EV 19:33. Penalties (total): Michigan 0-0 (2-4), Notre Dame 1-2 (1-2).

Third Period—Scoring: 5. Michigan, Kent Johnson 6 (Owen Power, Nick Blankenburg) EV 9:51. 6. Notre Dame, Matt Hellickson 1 (Colin Theisen, Michael Graham) EV 13:52. Penalties (total): Michigan 1-2 (3-6), Notre Dame 1-2 (2-4).

Shots on goal—Michigan 33 (7-15-11), Notre Dame 30 (8-9-13). Goalie saves—Michigan, Erik Portillo 29 (8-9-12), Notre Dame, Dylan St. Cyr 28 (7-11-10). Power-play opportunities—Michigan 1 of 2, Notre Dame 0 of 3. Faceoffs won—Michigan 21 (4-9-8), Notre Dame 28 (9-8-11). Blocked shots—Michigan 17 (8-3-6), Notre Dame 12 (4-5-3). Referees—David Marcotte and Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen—Jonathan Sladek and Pat Richardson. Records—Michigan 9-6-0 (7-6-0-1-0-0 for 20 points Big Ten), Notre Dame 7-7-1 (5-5-1-0-1-1 for 18 points Big Ten).

Michigan and Notre Dame battle in this Jan. 21 file photo. Notre Dame will host the Big Ten Hockey Tournament starting Sunday with a champion to be crowned Tuesday.