Morris super in Irish hockey victory

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The last thing college hockey opponents of No. 8 Notre Dame need is junior goaltender Cale Morris getting offensive.

The 6-foot-1 Coloradan from Larkspur, who last season won the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender, made 36 saves and also added an assist late in the second period as the Irish won their fifth straight with a 5-1 victory over visiting RPI.

Morris, who allowed six goals in Notre Dame’s 6-6 tie with Mercyhurst in the Ice Breaker Tournament in mid-October, has allowed just 16 goals in the 11 games since, lowering his goals-against average under 1.90 while improving his saves percentage to over .937 and his season record to 7-4-1.

And his reward for his Friday brilliance before 3,721 watching at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena? A likely Saturday night off from Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson so that sophomore Dylan St. Cyr, who has a 1.50 goals-against average and a .942 saver percentage in two victories, can stay sharp as the Irish move toward final exams

Morris’ best save of the evening came while Notre Dame was killing off an interference penalty by defenseman Bobby Nardella around the midway point of the second period. RPI’s Todd Burgess got to a loose puck in front of the wide-open Irish net, but Morris came out of nowhere to slide across and make a sprawling save with his right forearm to keep the Engineers scoreless.

The Irish student section behind the net immediately started serenading their All-American goalie with chants of “Ca-le Mor-ris … Ca-le Mor-ris.”

Notre Dame improved to 9-4-1 while the Engineers fell to 4-8 heading into Saturday night’s series finale. It was Notre Dame’s seventh victory in the last eight meetings with RPI. Last season, the Irish swept the Engineers 4-1 and 1-0 during their school-record 16-game winning streak.

Freshman Alex Steeves continued his torrid scoring pace of late, netting a pair of goals, giving him five in the last five games. Cal Burke (his team-leading ninth), Cam Morrison and Dylan Malmquist scored the other goals for the Irish, who had 12 players, including Morris, register points. Nardella had a pair of assists, giving him a team-leading 11.

RPI averted the shutout when freshman Kyle Hallbauer scored his first career goal when his shot from the deep slot beat a distracted Morris at 1:40 of the third period.

RPI coach Dave Smith replaced starting goalie Linden Marshall with backup Chase Perry after Marshall gave up two goals within 32 seconds of each other in the first 2:01 of the second period that doubled the Irish lead to 4-0. The two goalies combined for 33 saves.

Steeves, the brother of sophomore Matt, took a pass from freshman defenseman Nate Clurman away from the boards and fired a 30-foot wrister past Marshall at 5:53 to open the scoring in the first period. Nardella also picked up an assist on the goal.

Then in the final minute, Jack Jenkins came up with the puck outside the RPI blueline, fed it to Nardella, who then dropped it to Burke. The junior right wing whistled the puck home from the top of the faceoff circle to Marshall’s left at 19:18 for a 2-0 lead.

Steeves scored his second at 1:29 of the second period when his shot along the ice eluded a screened Marshall. Andrew Slaggert and Andrew Peeke assisted.

Then Mike O’Leary fed Colin Theisen down low and Marshall stopped Theisen’s backhander. But Morrison jumped on the rebound before Marshall could react on his last play on the night.

Morris, who had another 15 saves in the second period and 31 for the game at that point, finished it by skating out of his net and sending a long pass to Malmquist, who skated in to beat Perry at 19:14.