Irish maul Merrimack

Steve Lowe Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — After another strong weekend for Notre Dame, confidence is plentiful inside the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Sam Herr had two goals and an assist, Anders Bjork added a goal and two assists, and the Irish looked dominant Saturday night in a 5-1 victory over Merrimack College.

Now sporting the longest unbeaten streak in the country at 10 games (7-0-3), their longest streak since early in the 2011-12 season when they went 8-0-3, the Irish have averaged 5 1/2 goals over their last four games. They also scored first for the 19th time in 23 games this season, which leads the nation.

"A lot of things have been going pretty positive for us," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. "We've got a lot of guys executing what we want to try to do, and I think it's leading to scoring chances and goals.

"Confidence breeds confidence."

One night after throttling Merrimack, 7-2, Notre Dame (12-4-7, 8-1-2 Hockey East) outshot the Warriors, 45-17, and also dominated the faceoff circle, 33-17, in earning the Hockey East series sweep. The Warriors (7-11-5, 2-5-5) have lost seven straight.

"That team was a better team than that," Jackson said. "I think it was partially us, but that team beat (Boston University) a month ago. They're a good team. We just made it tough on them."

The Irish got things going early with a gift of a goal. Just over five minutes into the game, Merrimack defenseman Ethan Spaxman left the puck between his skates for goalie Collin Delia to cover, but Delia instead backed away, leaving the puck lying in the crease. Herr swooped in and eventually whacked the puck home.

That miscue aside, Delia was strong the rest of the first period for Merrimack, making 15 saves and holding Notre Dame to the one goal.

But it didn't take the Irish long into the second period to make it 2-0. After starting the period on a power play, freshman defenseman Bobby Nardella got his second goal of the weekend when he beat Delia high to the stick side.

"(Nardella) sat out the second to last game before Christmas break and I had a conversation with him why," Jackson said. "I didn't think he was playing with enough jam. He didn't show enough intensity in his game.

"He came back that next game against (Boston College) and probably had his best game of the year. From that point, he's just built more and more confidence."

Nardella's offensive aggressiveness led to Notre Dame's next goal seven minutes later when he sped into the offensive zone and put a shot on Delia. The Merrimack netminder made the save, but Mario Lucia was there to hammer in the rebound for his third goal in the last four games.

After Brett Seney got the Warriors on the board in the third period, Bjork rifled a shot into the top right corner over Delia's glove for his team-best ninth goal of the season.

Herr added one more with just over two minutes to play to complete the scoring. Irish goaltender Cal Petersen didn't see much work, finishing with 16 saves. Jake Evans recorded three assists.

FIRST PERIOD

ND - Sam Herr, 6 (unassisted) 5:26. Shots on goal: ND 16, MC 4; Penalties: MC 3-6, ND 0-0.

SECOND PERIOD

ND - Bobby Nardella, 4 (Anders Bjork, Jake Evans) PP, 1:18; ND - Mario Lucia, 6 (Nardella) 8:07. Shots: ND 10, MC 4; Penalties: ND 1-2, MC 1-2.

THIRD PERIOD

MC - Brett Seney, 4 (Mathieu Tibbet) 9:34; ND - Bjork, 9 (Evans, Herr) 10:52; Herr, 7 (Bjork, Evans) 17:54. Shots: ND 19, MC 9; Penalties: MC 5-13, ND 3-9.

MC 0 0 1 - 1

ND 1 2 2 - 5

Shots: ND 45, MC 17; Saves: MC 40 (Collin Delia), ND 16 (Cal Petersen); Power plays: ND 1-6, MC 0-2; Penalties: MC 9-21, ND 4-11; Attendance: 4,665.