Notre Dame offense goes quiet as Michigan sweeps Irish hockey team

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Since its 16-game winning streak ended last month with back-to-back shutouts by Wisconsin and Minnesota, No. 1 Notre Dame has found itself offensively challenged despite capturing the Big Ten Hockey Conference regular-season title.

Early Sunday evening, the Irish suffered their third shutout in nine games as Michigan’s Hayden Lavigne turned away 35 shots and the 18th-ranked Wolverines became the first team to sweep the Irish this season, handing Notre Dame its third straight loss with a 1-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 5,800 fans watching at the Red Berenson Rink of the Yost Ice Arena.

The setback likely will also end Notre Dame’s grip on the No. 1 ranking, possibly sending the Irish (22-8-2, 16-5-1-1 Big Ten) sliding below Denver, St. Cloud, Cornell and Minnesota State heading into this weekend’s regular-season-ending league series against visiting Michigan State Friday and Saturday.

Notre Dame is now 3-5-1 since its school-record 16-game winning streak was snapped by Wisconsin in a 5-0 shutout at the United Center on Jan. 21. That was followed five days later by a 1-0 overtime loss at Minnesota.

“Give the Lavigne kid credit,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “He played two great games against us this weekend (Lavigne had 23 saves in Michigan’s 4-2 victory Friday in South Bend). We have to find a way to get more traffic to the net, get more bodies to the net and get pucks through.”

Lavigne got plenty of help from his teammates, who blocked 25 Irish shot attempts, five by center Josh Norris and four by defenseman Quinn Hughes. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert had three of Notre Dame’s 11 blocks.

“They are very good defensively,” Jackson said. “That’s how they play. They don’t allow many shots to get through.”

By virtue of its regular-season title in its first year as a Big Ten affiliate hockey member, the Irish will host a conference semifinal game on March 10 and would host the championship if it wins.

Michigan, 8-3-1 since losing a pair of 2-1 games to the Irish on the first weekend of 2018, improved to 16-13-3 and 11-10-3-2 in the Big Ten for 38 points, currently third.

Once again, sophomore Cale Morris was stellar in net for the Irish, who got off to another slow start before finding themselves. Morris turned away 36 shots, 16 in the first period and 10 in each of the final periods.

The game’s only goal came off a Notre Dame turnover in the final minute of the second period. A bad clearing pass bounced off a Notre Dame skate into the slot where two unguarded Wolverines – Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone – were lurking. Marody corralled the puck and fed Calderone, whose wrist shot bounced off Morris’ glove high into the net at 19:21.

“I thought we played a better game tonight,” Jackson said. “We just need to get back on track. We only made the one bad turnover in our zone and it cost us the goal. Cale was back to normal. I thought he played extremely well.”

But Lavigne outplayed him, particularly at the end. The Michigan sophomore goalie, who made 15 saves in the second period, made 12 in the third and was ready when Jackson pulled Morris with 1:38 remaining in regulation for a sixth attacker.

With 50 seconds remaining, Andrew Oglevie directed a shot toward an unguarded goal but it went just wide of the post, and then Lavigne stopped first Jordan Gross and Jake Evans from close range with 24.4 seconds left.

Michigan had the first eight shots on goal in the first 5:16 of the game and Morris twice robbed Marody and also stopped Calderone on another try plus Calderone hit the pipe for good measure. That post came after Gross clanged one at the 5:00 mark of the first period.

Notre Dame’s first official shot on goal came off the stick of Evans at 7:51 and Michigan ran it to 13-1 before Cal Burke’s mid-slot shot was turned aside by Lavigne.

Fourth-line forwards Joe Wegwerth and Bo Brauer finally got some extended pressure on Lavigne at 17:29 to cut the Michigan shot margin to 15-4. Moments later, Gross’ blast from the blueline was wide of the net, where Oglevie just missed a tip-in try. The rebound came back to Oglevie whose shot was stopped by Lavigne at 18:15.

The Irish had five good chances that Lavigne stopped on a power play after Marody was called for an offensive-zone interference at 12:16 of the second period. Both teams were 0-for-2 on power plays.

It just was not Notre Dame’s night.

In this file photo. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson looks on during the Notre Dame-Michigan game on Jan. 7, (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)