Notre Dame hockey skid ends with five-goal second period

John Fineran Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — A season-high five goals in the second period put an end to the No. 3 Notre Dame hockey team’s three-game losing streak Friday night.

Sophomore Cam Morrison scored two goals against two different Michigan State goaltenders to highlight the most productive offensive period of the season for coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish in a 6-3 Big Ten Conference victory before 4,660 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Swept 4-2 and 1-0 by surging Michigan last weekend, the Irish matched a season high for goals in a game this season. They beat Wisconsin, 6-2, on Dec. 9.

“It was good to see, especially in the second period when we started to resemble our team of the first half,” Jackson said. “The goals were the result of good effort, pressure and transition. Getting traffic to the net is something we’ve been lacking the last three weeks. It’s important we get back to feeling comfortable offensively.”

Notre Dame, 23-8-2 overall, improved to 17-5-1-1 in the Big Ten and never trailed against the last-place Spartans (11-20-2, 5-16-2-1 Big Ten) with Mike O’Leary’s goal providing the Irish a 1-0 first-period lead before the second-period explosion.

Captain Jake Evans made it 2-0 just 37 seconds into the second period with his second shorthanded goal of the season and the Irish then poured it on with four more goals in the period. The first two by Andrew Peeke and Morrison came within 14 seconds of each other, with Morrison’s goal at 7:10 chasing MSU starting goalie John Lethemon. Joe Wegwerth’s power-play goal at 11:22 and Morrison’s second goal of the period at 15:47 came against Ed Minney.

Notre Dame has now outscored its opposition 43-23 in the second period.

The two Spartan goalies combined for 27 saves. Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris had 35 saves but allowed three goals, two by defenseman Zach Osburn sandwiched around a shorthanded goal by Brennan Sanford.

The two teams conclude the regular season Saturday night at 7:05. Michigan State then travels to Ohio State for a first-round, best-of-three series against the second-place Buckeyes, who beat Wisconsin 6-2 Friday. The Irish, as Big Ten regular-season champs, have a bye next weekend and host a one-game semifinal matchup on Saturday, March 10.

Morris started strong, turning aside eight shots in the first 6:32 while his teammates found their legs and their aim. The Irish goalie, who finished with 12 saves in the period, made his best one on a 2-on-1 break after Nardella lost the puck in the offensive zone. Morris got his stick on Sanford’s shot at 12:50 to keep the game scoreless.

“Cale has been like that all season long,” Jackson said. “He holds the fort while we get going. We’ve been a notoriously slow starting team. It’s something we’ve addressed and tried to deal with. We were a little on our heels in the first period.

Less than three minutes later, Nardella atoned for his mistake, breaking into the Spartan zone and drawing a defender to him before shoveling the puck to an unattended O’Leary, who beat Lethemon stick-side high from the slot at 15:32 for a 1-0 lead.

In the last minute of the period, Michigan State’s KHL line – center Patrick Khodorenko, left wing Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski – had a 3-on-1 break but an errant pass by Khodorenko ended the threat. The line, responsible for 45 percent of Michigan State’s offense this season, would be held scoreless by the Irish.

But the line’s rush did create a penalty – Notre Dame’s Matt Hellickson went off for a cross check at 19:26 and the resulting MSU power play carried over into the second period.

As the Spartans tried to settle into their man-advantage, Evans anticipated and stole a pass at the Irish blue line and skated in alone on Lethemon. The Irish captain slid a shot stick-side low into the net 37 seconds into the period for a 2-0 Irish lead. It was the fourth short-handed goal of the season for Notre Dame’s penalty-killing unit, the third-best in the country, the second for Evans and his 10th overall.

The Spartans cut the lead in half at 5:52 when Osburn’s shot from the point made it through a screen to beat Morris.

But 62 seconds later, the Irish made it 3-1 when Lethemon was distracted by Notre Dame players circling in front of him and lost track of Peeke’s wrist shot that found the net just inside the far post.

Fourteen seconds later, the Irish made it 4-1 when Evans fed Morrison on Lethemon’s doorstep and Morrison beat the MSU goalie high to the glove side, ending Lethemon’s evening with Minney taking over.

The Irish power-play unit scored the team’s fourth goal of the period when Wegwerth poked home a rebound of Nardella’s shot at 11:22 with Oglevie also drawing an assist.

Morrison added his second goal of the period after an errant Spartan pass bounced off a skate and he corralled the puck for a breakaway, beating Minney stick-side high at 15:47, sending a relieved Notre Dame to the locker room after two periods up 6-1.

Jackson, however, was not happy with the two goals Morris and his team allowed in the third period.

“I think we saw the sigh of relief in the third period, frankly,” he said.

Sanford’s shorthanded shot at 2:30 of the third period just trickled past Morris before Osburn’s second goal of the game at 9:44 made it 6-3.

Jackson, who has indicated that he would like to give freshman Dylan St. Cyr a night in the net before the playoffs, was non-committal after Morris finished off his 22nd victory (against six losses and a tie) of the season.

“I’ve not talked to Cale and the coaches,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a bye week coming up here so I’m not so much concerned about his fatigue. For him it’s just a matter of getting focused.”