Notre Dame hockey: Goaltenders in spotlight when No. 13 Irish visit No. 15 Buckeyes

By John Fineran
ND Insider
Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel, shown Oct. 21, 2021, had a shutout for the Irish on Sunday and added an assist.

SOUTH BEND — Usually in past hockey seasons by the time Notre Dame has reached January, Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson has settled on his goaltender.

“I’m usually a one-goalie guy,” said Jackson, the school’s all-time winningest coach who was a backup goalie during his playing days at Michigan State during the 1970s under the late U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame coach Ron Mason.

When Notre Dame has made Frozen Four runs under Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to a pair of NCAA titles in 1992 and 1994, the Fighting Irish did so behind season-long, red-hot goaltenders like Jordan Pearce (2008), Mike Johnson (2011), Cal Petersen (2017), Cale Morris (2018). Morris, in fact, won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top netminder on the eve of Notre Dame’s 2-1 loss to champion Minnesota Duluth.

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This season, No. 13 Notre Dame (15-6 overall, 8-4-0 Big Ten for 22 points and fourth place) has been getting outstanding goaltending from two goalies — junior Ryan Bischel and grad-transfer (from Cornell) Matthew Galajda — and Jackson is content to split their weekend duties, which is against his nature. That’s because the Irish, who visit No. 15 Ohio State (15-6-1, 7-4-1 Big Ten for 23 points and second-place tie with Michigan) tonight and Saturday evening, are the only team among 59 playing Division I hockey with two goalies in the Top 10 for save percentage.

“I’m fine with it right now,” Jackson said. “We’ve got two guys who are 92-93 percent save percentage, and that to me is the No. 1 statistic that I evaluate.”

Former Cornell goalie Matthew Galajda is shown during a game on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 in East Lansing, Mich. Galajda has transferred to Notre Dame for his final season of eligibility.

Bischel is seventh in saves percentage at .932, while Galajda is 10th at .926. They are also in the Top 10 in goals-against average — Bischel is seventh at 1.848; Galajda eighth at 1.921. Galajda, who twice was a Mike Richter Award finalist at Cornell before graduating and moving to Notre Dame to replace Notre Dame graduate Dylan St. Cyr, is seventh in winning percentage (9-3 for .750) while Bischel is tied for 12th (6-3 for .667). In shutouts, Galajda has two and Bischel one.

Last weekend at Penn State, Bischel got the Friday start following his 5-0 shutout of Niagara Jan. 2 and responded with a 4-2 victory over the Nittany Lions with a career-high 38 saves, one more than he had in the second game of his and Notre Dame’s two-game overtime sweep at then No. 1 Michigan back in November.

Saturday night when Notre Dame rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit for a 5-4 overtime victory over the Nittany Lions, Galajda, who shut out RIT 6-0 and Wisconsin 3-0 earlier this season, made a season-high 35 saves.

“As long as they can both contribute and be successful, it’s not hard to play both,” Jackson said. Which one starts the series opener Friday at 7 (the teams play at 8 Saturday) only Jackson knows for sure. 

The last time the Irish played coach Steve Rohlik’s Buckeyes Dec. 2-3 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena, Jackson opened with Galajda, who was rusty after a more than three-week layoff and surrendered four goals on Ohio State’s 28 shots on goal in a 4-2 loss. Bischel got the nod the following night and stopped 24 of 25 Buckeye shots as Notre Dame chased Ohio State’s outstanding freshman goalie from the Czech Republic, 6-foot-4 Jacob Dobeš in the third period.  

Dobeš had 33 saves in a 5-3 victory and 38 more in a 2-2 overtime tie (and eventual 2-1 shootout win) at Wisconsin last weekend for the Buckeyes, who are 7-0-1 in their last eight games since a 5-2 loss to Michigan on Dec. 10. In 20 games, the Buckeye goalie has a 14-5-1 record (.725 winning percentage, ninth nationally), a .927 saves percentage (ninth) and 2.137 goals-against average (14th).

Jackson has been impressed.

“(Dobeš) has really good athleticism,” Jackson said. “He’s a big guy but he also plays big. He challenges the shooter as well as anybody in our conference. He’s well above his crease in a lot of shot situations, and he doesn’t give you anything to shoot at. As a freshman he’s shown some good poise.”