Morris’ streak ends as Buckeyes romp past Irish, 5-1

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Many of the 5,202 fans in the Compton Family Ice Arena were unaware what was happening on the ice of the Lefty Smith Rink at 7:53 of the third period.

If they had known, they might have provided one of the few prolonged cheers for top-ranked Notre Dame’s hockey team, which suffered a 5-1 loss to Big Ten Conference rival Ohio State a night after clinching the regular-season league title and first-round bye in the postseason tournament.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson decided it was time to give sophomore goaltender Cale Morris a much-deserved and probably much-needed rest. Freshman Dylan St. Cyr, who last played Oct. 26 in a 6-4 loss to Nebraska-Omaha, replaced Morris, who came to the Irish bench.

It was the first time in 23 games, during which Notre Dame ran off a 16-game winning streak and climbed to the top of the college hockey rankings, that Morris didn’t finish what he had started. It was not the way a remarkable 19-3-1 run as a starter should have ended. During it, Morris allowed just 39 goals, had four shutouts and stopped 786 shots while compiling a 1.70 goals-against average and a save percentage of .953.

“He’s been our rock,” Jackson said.

So after the Irish allowed three unanswered goals in the third period, the 13-year Irish coach decided to allow St. Cyr to finish up the loss, which dropped the Irish to 22-6-2 and 16-3-1-1 in the Big Ten, 13 points ahead of the Buckeyes (19-7-4 overall, 12-7-1-0 in the Big Ten) with four games left to play for each.

Jackson wasn’t holding his goalie responsible for what happened in front of him and around his net. The Buckeyes got goals from five different players – Matthew Weis, Matt Joyaux, Kevin Miller, Sam McCormick and Brendon Kearney (an empty-netter) – and 39 saves from goalie Sean Romeo, who made 22 stops in the second period when the Irish notched their only goal – a power-play tip-in by Cam Morrison off a blast from Andrew Oglevie at 17:35 that sent the Irish into the third period just a goal down.

“We didn’t have the same edge we had last night (in the title-clinching 2-1 victory),” said Jackson, who said he warned his club in the morning about a possible letdown. “First of all, Ohio State is a good hockey team. If you give them opportunities they are going to take advantage. We made some uncharacteristic plays with the puck that led to odd-man rush situations that ended up costing us. We’ve been very good avoiding those types of turnovers and we took a couple of penalties which I thought were unnecessary. We didn’t have the same focus and the same mindset.”

Jackson also sounded like he was going to make sure Morris got back in the saddle this Friday night when Notre Dame plays host to Michigan at 7:35 p.m. in the first of a home-and-home series that concludes in Ann Arbor a week from today at 5:30 p.m.

“Cale is the guy who has made the difference in so many games,” Jackson said. “If you play sloppy like that, you can’t rely on your goaltender to stop 2-on-1s and breakaways all the time.”

Seeking to solidify their hold on second place in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes scored the only goal of the first period when Weis notched his 10th to conclude a 3-on-2 break at 8:49. The Buckeyes went ahead 2-0 at 8:55 of the second period when defenseman Joyaux beat Morris on a blast from the point that bounced a couple of times in front of him.

Notre Dame countered on the power play against the nation’s top penalty-killing unit when Morrison tipped the puck past Romeo after Oglevie’s blast at 17:35 of the second period. Bobby Nardella also received an assist.

Morris had 23 saves through the first two periods and the Irish goalie had four saves in the third before the Buckeyes took control of the game with a pair of goals within 57 seconds of each other.

First Miller converted a pass from Luke Stork to complete a 2-on-1 break for a 3-1 lead at 6:56. Then at 7:53, McCormick made it a 4-1 lead when his shot trickled through Morris’ pads after the Irish defense got sloppy.

Jackson then sent St. Cyr to replace Morris, who has propelled himself into consideration for the Hobey Baker Award. St. Cyr stopped six shots in his 11:26 of action. The fifth Buckeye goal came with St. Cyr off for a sixth attacker.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get Dylan in,” Jackson said. “I figured the first opportunity would be mop-up duty. Dylan has been working hard. I would have done it in Chicago but that was at the end of the streak.”

Jackson was referring to Notre Dame’s 5-0 loss to Wisconsin which ended a school-record 16-game winning streak, the longest in the nation this season. A 1-0 overtime loss at Minnesota followed and the Irish were 3-0-1 until Saturday night, including a 5-3 victory at Penn State in which Morris made a then career-high 48 saves and a 1-1 overtime tie (and 1-0 shootout win) the following evening when Morris stopped a career-high 55, including five in overtime, one of them a penalty shot.

A rock? More like Pike’s Peak, the Rocky Mountain that Morris sees from his home in Larkspur, Colo.

Cale Morris has been that good. And so has Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s Cale Morris (32) makes a save during the Ohio State at Notre Dame hockey game at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.