Notre Dame Hockey: Irish skaters have someone special in Spencer Stastney
SOUTH BEND — Even Spencer Stastney can’t believe how quickly his Notre Dame hockey career seems to have gone.
It seems like only yesterday that Stastney was a 5-foot-10, 179-pound freshman defenseman from Mequon, Wisconsin, and the United States National Team Development Program trying to find his way on a Notre Dame team coming off its 2018 NCAA runner-up finish to Minnesota Duluth.
In 39 games that freshman campaign, Stastney would score one goal and three assists for a team which would successfully defend its Big Ten championship but lose in the NCAA Manchester (New Hampshire) Regional championship final to Massachusetts and finish 23-14-3.
“It’s crazy,” the now 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior said earlier this week as No. 11 Notre Dame (17-7-0, 9-5-0 Big Ten for 24 points) prepared for Friday’s first of two important weekend conference games with No. 10 Minnesota (14-10-0, 9-5-0 Big Ten for 27 points). “These four years have flown by so quickly.”
About as quickly as Stastney flies through the opposition once he gains control of the puck in his own end and makes the transition from defense to offense. There are few players in college hockey who do it better, according to his coach Jeff Jackson.
“Spencer probably gets underrated, in my opinion, as far as being one of the best defensemen in college hockey,” Jackson said. “He quietly goes about his business. When he’s on the ice, he’s a dominant player. He’s not purely an offensive defenseman; he’s not purely a defensive defenseman. He’s an overall good hockey player.”
Over Notre Dame’s last nine games — a span during which the Irish have gone 6-3 — the fifth-round (131st player chosen) selection of Nashville Predators in the 2018 NHL Draft, has enjoyed his best stretch of hockey with five goals and five assists.
In Notre Dame’s last game on Jan. 19 against non-conference rival Boston College at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena, Stastney had a goal and two assists as the Fighting Irish routed the Eagles 8-2.
Stastney started his offensive explosion with a pair of goals in Notre Dame’s 3-2 home victory over Michigan State Dec. 10. He had Notre Dame’s only goal in a 3-1 New Year’s Day loss to Niagara but then added the game-winning goal in a 3-2 overtime victory at Ohio State Jan. 14.
Through 24 games, Stastney, who leads the team in plus/minus at +16, has five goals and 12 assists and 17 points, three shy of the season-high 20 points he scored as a sophomore. His goal total matches the five he scored last season, but they have come on 23 fewer shots. Stastney ranks third on the team in shot percentage at 0.179 (5 of 28) trailing only forwards Jesse Lansdell (.263 on 5 of 19) and Cam Burke (.186 on 8 of 43).
Defensively, Stastney, whose only minor penalty was incurred Oct. 21 against RIT, is second with 36 blocked shots (behind fellow defenseman Adam Karashik’s 48). And he’s a big reason why Notre Dame has killed off 86 of 93 power-play chances by the opposition, a nation’s best percentage of 0.925.
“He just does so much in a positive way to influence the game,” Jackson added.
Particularly since the start of the new year. Stastney likes the way the Irish have developed a never-say-die attitude.
“We’ve not always come out hot,” Stastney said, “but we’ve found a way to stick around and win games.”
Like in the second game of a two-game series at Penn State Jan. 7-8. After winning the Friday opener 4-2, Notre Dame came from behind twice to send the Saturday game into the five-minute, 3-on-3 skaters overtime tied at 4-4. With eight seconds left, Jackson sent his two quickest skaters, right wing Max Ellis and Stastney, out for a faceoff deep in the Irish end with senior Jake Pivonka, the team’s best faceoff man.
Pivonka got the puck back to Stastney, who gloved it, dropped it and skated down ice, finally taking a shot inside the faceoff circle that Penn State goalie Oskar Autio kicked aside. But Ellis got to the rebound and beat the goalie for the 5-4 game-winner with just two-tenths of a second remaining.
“This is the grind of the season,” Stastney said. “This is where teams get ready for the playoffs. We’re in a good spot in the conference. We just need to play each 60 minutes hard and get points where we can and give ourselves the best chance to succeed in the playoffs.”
Stastney hopes the current ride has a happy ending come April 7-9 at the NCAA Frozen Four in Boston.
“I just hope we can keep the spark alive and do something special,” he said.
Spencer Stastney is special to watch.
BIG TEN STANDINGS
Pts, GP, W-L-T, SOW, OW-OL, GF-GA
Ohio State 33, 16, 10-5-1, 1, 0-1, 52-36
Michigan 33, 16, 10-6-0, 0, 0-3, 57-42
Minnesota 27, 14, 9-5-0, 0, 1-1, 46-35
Notre Dame 24, 14, 9-5-0, 0, 4-1, 42-34
Wisconsin 16, 16, 5-10-1, 0, 1-1, 38-56
Penn State 15, 16, 5-11-0, 0, 1-1, 48-60
Michigan State 14, 16, 5-11-0, 0, 1-0, 35-55
(Overall, W-L-T, .Pct, GF-GA)
Ohio State 18-7-1, .712, 94-56; Michigan 19-7-1, .722, 101-62; Minnesota 14-10-0, .583, 80-62; Notre Dame 17-7-0, .708, 85-50; Wisconsin 8-15-3, .365, 54-84; Penn State 14-12-0, .538, 92-80; Michigan State 11-14-1, .442, 59-75.
Friday, Jan. 28 schedule
Minnesota at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m.
Michigan at Wisconsin, 7 p.m.
Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 29 schedule
Minnesota at Notre Dame, 6 p.m.
Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m.
Michigan at Wisconsin, 9 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
U.S. Under-18 team at Michigan, 7 p.m.