Hockey: Sluggish No. 10 Notre Dame falls to Niagara, 3-1

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — No. 10 Notre Dame’s pre-Christmas struggles scoring goals on the ice continued on the first day of 2022.

Coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish, who suffered a 1-0 overtime shutout loss at home three weeks ago against Big Ten rival Michigan State, managed just one goal against Niagara and the Purple Eagles of the Atlantic Hockey Association skated to a 3-1 victory before a sparse announced crowd of 3,374 watching at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

► More:Hockey: Notre Dame vs. Niagara

Notre Dame (12-6-0) was at full strength for the game with Landon Slaggert back from Canada and the COVID-canceled World Juniors and Solag Bakich back from a first-semester illness which idled him in the final two series before Christmas. Plus, senior center Jake Pivonka, who sat out the first 15 games of the first semester recovering from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon suffered during summer workouts, was taking a regular shift at center.

But the new line makeups did little for Jackson, who reshuffled them in the third period against coach Jason Lammers hustling Purple Eagles, who improved to 5-10-2. It also was Niagara’s first victory in its history with Notre Dame, which now leads 2-1-1.

“There’s no excuses – we just weren’t as ready to play as they were,” Jackson said. “It’s disappointing because you want to get off to a good start in the second half, and we played really sleepy hockey.”

Jackson gave the visitors credit. 

“They play hard, and their system is tough to play against,” Jackson continued. “We did not execute some of the things we needed to do. Give them their due – they played well.”

Albin Nilsson, a junior center from Finland, scored the final two goals for Niagara, the last into an empty net at 18:36 of the third period. Meanwhile, goalie Chad Veltri, a junior from Pittsburgh, made 11 saves in the third period and 27 for the game to outplay Irish goalie Matthew Galajda, who finished with 25 saves. 

Irish senior defenseman Spencer Stastney scored Notre Dame’s only goal on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period. It was Stastney’s third goal of the season.

The Purple Eagles, who had won just two of their previous seven games, skated even with the Irish in the first period, outshooting their hosts 8-7 and taking a 1-0 lead at 14:44 when junior center Jason Pineo beat Galajdo on the doorstep after an Irish turnover behind the goal line. 

 But Stastney tied it in the second period when he intercepted a Niagara pass just inside his own zone and skated up ice on a breakaway, beating Veltri along the ice at 3:52 of the second period.

Veltri rose to the occasion almost three minutes later when he denied Notre Dame’s Justin Janicke at 6:35 and then Hunter Strand seven seconds later. Strand got his own rebound but then hit the post before Veltri denied him pn a third shot at 6:49.

The Purple Eagles went up 2-1 when Nilsson stole the puck along the boards and skated in to beat Galajda with a quick wrister over the goalie’s right shoulder at 13:38 of the second period. 

 Veltri turned aside all 11 shots he saw in the third period, and the Purple Eagles got an insurance goal at 18:36 just seconds after Jackson pulled Galajda for an extra attacker. Nilsson got control of the puck near his bench and shot the puck into the empty net.

The teams conclude their weekend series Sunday at 5 p.m. before the Irish take to the road for a pair of Big Ten Conference series at Penn State Jan. 7-8 and Ohio State Jan. 14-15. 

NIAGARA 3, NOTRE DAME 1

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

Niagara | 1-1-1—3 

Notre Dame | 0-1-0—1 

 First Period—Scoring: 1. Niagara, Jason Pineo 1 (Chris Harpur, Olivier Gauthier) EV 14:44. Penalties: Niagara 2-4, Notre Dame 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: 2. Notre Dame, Spencer Stastney 3 (unassisted) SH 3:52. 3. Niagara, Albin Nilsson 5 (Jon Hill, Jordan Wishman) EV 13:38. Penalties (total): Niagara 0-0 (2-4), Notre Dame 2-4 (3-6).

Third Period—Scoring: 4. Niagara, Albin Nilsson 6 (unassisted) EN 18:36. Penalties (total): Niagara 1-2 (3-6), Notre Dame 1-2 (4-8).

Shots on goal: Niagara 28 (8-10-10), Notre Dame 28 (7-10-11). Goalie saves: Niagara, Chad Veltri 27 (7-9-11), Notre Dame, Matthew Galajda 25 (7-9-9).

 Power-play opportunities: Niagara 0 of 4, Notre Dame 0 of 3. Faceoffs won: Niagara 23 (8-9-6), Notre Dame 31 (9-8-14). Blocked shots: Niagara 17 (4-7-6), Notre Dame 12 (6-2-4).

Referees: Tony Czech and Brian Aaron. Linesmen: Riley Bowles and Mike Daltrey. Attendance: 3,374 (5,022).

Records: Niagara 5-10-2, Notre Dame 12-6-0.

BIG TEN STANDINGS

(Conference)

Pts, GP, W-L-T, OW-OL, SW, GF-GA

Michigan 23, 12, 7-5-0, 0-2, 0, 45-34

Minnesota 19, 10, 6-4-0, 0-1, 0, 33-26

Ohio State 18, 10, 6-4-0, 0-0, 0, 32-24

Notre Dame 17, 10, 6-4-0, 2-1, 0, 29-22

Michigan State 14, 10, 5-5-0, 1-0, 0, 24-30

Wisconsin 9, 10, 3-7-0, 1-1, 0, 22-34

Penn State 8, 10, 3-7-0, 1-0, 0, 26-41

(Overall, W-L-T, .Pct, GF-GA)

Michigan 14-6-1, .690, 81-51; Minnesota 10-8-0, .556, 61-49; Ohio State 14-6-0, .700, 74-44; Notre Dame 12-6-0, .667, 59-36; Michigan State 11-8-1, .575, 48-50; Wisconsin 6-12-2, .350, 38-62; Penn State 11-8-0, .579, 65-58.

Tuesday, Dec. 28 schedule

Holiday Face-Off at Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wisconsin 3, Yale 2 (OT)

(Providence 6, Bowling Green 2)

Wednesday, Dec. 29 schedule

Great Lakes Invitational

Western Michigan 3, Michigan State 1

Michigan 0, Michigan Tech 0 (OT)

Holiday Face-Off at Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wisconsin 2, Providence 2 (OT), championship

(Bowling Green 2, Yale 1, consolation)

Thursday, Dec. 30 schedule

Great Lakes Invitational

Michigan State 3, Michigan 2 (OT)

Western Michigan at Michigan, canceled

Friday, Dec. 31 schedule

Ohio State 6, Long Island 0

Maine at Penn State, canceled

Saturday, Jan. 1 schedule

Niagara 3, Notre Dame 1

Ohio State 7, Long Island 2

Maine at Penn State, canceled

Sunday, Jan. 2 schedule

Niagara at Notre Dame, 5 p.m.