Notre Dame's struggles continue as Wolverines skate to 4-2 victory

John Fineran
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Maybe its 13-0 start as a member of the Big Ten Hockey Conference just came too easily for Notre Dame.

As the regular season winds down, the top-ranked Irish are struggling to get off to good starts and getting a little careless on their own side of the ice against Big Ten teams.

Friday night, No. 18 Michigan — playing for a high seed in the post-season conference tournament and a possible NCAA tourney bid after that — outhustled coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish for a 4-2 victory before a standing-room only crowd of 5,993 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

“I thought we played better after the first period,” Jackson said. “We made some bad plays defensively, plays you can’t make against a team like Michigan. We’re playing teams that are desperate. We’re playing playoff hockey. The problem is we’re not playing the way we were playing.”

Michigan, which concludes the regular season next weekend with a non-conference series against Arizona State, won for the seventh time in its last 11 games after losing a pair of 2-1 games to Notre Dame in early January. The Wolverines are 15-13-3 overall and 10-10-3-2 (for 35 points) and a solid third in the Big Ten.

Notre Dame (22-7-2 overall, 16-4-1-1 Big Ten), which beat Ohio State 2-1 last Friday to clinch the Big Ten regular-season title and a first-round bye in the league playoffs and then lost 5-1 Saturday, is 3-4-1 since its school-record 16-game winning streak was snapped by Wisconsin’s 5-0 shutout in Chicago on Jan. 21.

The teams conclude their home-and-home series Sunday afternoon on Michigan’s Red Berenson Rink at the Yost Ice Arena at 5:30.

Tony Calderone’s goal at 4:27 of the second period was the eventual game-winner for coach Mel Pearson’s team, which got a third-period insurance goal from freshman Michael Pastujov after Adam Winborg and Dexter Dancs had staked Michigan to a 2-0 lead after the first period.

Notre Dame’s goals, both in the second period, came from Joe Wegwerth and Bobby Nadella.

Sophomore goalie Hayden Lavigne, who has been Michigan’s regular goalie since the first of the year, made 34 saves, 14 in each of the second and third periods, to outduel sophomore Cal Morris, Notre Dame’s Hobey Baker Award candidate, who had 32 saves. Morris fell to 21-5-1.

The Wolverines took advantage of another slow start by the Irish for a 2-0 first-period lead. Michigan had a 17-6 advantage in shots as ND has been outshot in 21 of 30 games.

The Irish actually got the first shot on goal of the game when Lavigne turned aside Justin Wade’s blast from deep in the slot during the first minute. Notre Dame would go more than 5½ minutes before again testing the Michigan goalie, whose teammates forced Morris to make seven saves in the same span.

In the seventh minute, Notre Dame started to mount some pressure when Wegwerth, Jake Evans and Cal Burke (on a partial breakaway) gave Lavigne some anxious moments.

The Wolverines, however, regained the advantage and finally solved Morris on a deflection by Winborg, who got his stick on defender Quinn Hughes’ blast from the point at 12:34.

After Lavigne stopped a Jordan Gross shot at the 15-minute mark, Michigan made it 2-0 when Dancs’ wrist shot from along the boards evaded Morris, who appeared to be screened by one of his teammates, at 15:40.

The teams were skating 4-on-4 in the final minute when Notre Dame got a 3-on-1 break, got too cute with the puck and didn’t get a shot off.

“They drive me crazy when they don’t shoot the puck,” Jackson said. “They’re looking to make everything look pretty.”

Still, the Irish ended up getting a delayed hooking call on Michigan’s Jake Slaker at the 20:00 mark that carried into the second period.

This time, the Irish didn’t waste the opportunity. Evans slipped the puck back to the center point to Matt Hellickson, whose slapper appeared to be headed wide until Wegwerth, to Lavigne’s right, deflected it past the Michigan goaltender at 1:27. It was Wegwerth’s fourth goal of the season.

But the Wolverines responded exactly three minutes later when the Irish first got careless in their defensive zone and then didn’t come to Morris’ rescue. After stopping Wolverines James Sanchez and Hughes, Morris was out of position when Calderone slipped his 16th of the season into the wide-open net at 4:27 for a 3-1 Michigan lead.

Morris, who had 15 saves in the first period, kept his sluggish team in the game with five saves on a Michigan power play that resulted when Notre Dame’s Bo Brauer was called for hooking in the offensive zone at 5:30.

The Irish then had another power play at 8:20 when Michigan’s Nicholas Boka went off for hooking. Lavigne came up with his best save of the night when he robbed Evans, who was attempting to go top shelf.

Lavigne was without a stick when Luke Martin joined Boka in the penalty box at 9:45 for interference, giving the Irish a 5-on-3 power play for 35 seconds. But Notre Dame got just one shot on goal before Boka rejoined play and only one more before Martin returned.

Marody went off the ice at 18:39 for hooking, giving the Irish another power-play opportunity, and this time they wasted little time. Evans won the faceoff, and Oglevie and Gross eventually got the puck to the center point for Nardella, whose blast deflected past Lavigne at 18:47.

Notre Dame came out more aggressive in the third period and carried the play for the first seven minutes. But another mistake at center ice proved costly when sophomore Nick Pastujov crossed a 2-on-1 pass to his freshman brother Michael, who tipped the puck past Morris at 8:08 for a 4-2 lead.

Lavigne and the Wolverines maintained the two-goal margin when officials and instant replay wiped out a possible third goal by the Irish at 16:16 when they ruled Jack Jenkins used a high stick to deflect a Gross shot from the point past the Michigan goaltender.