Theisen, O’Leary lead way as No. 8 Notre Dame finishes sweep of Falcons

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson isn’t a fan of bye weeks, particularly when they come early in the season.

But if finishing off a sweep of Atlantic Hockey member Air Force with a 6-1 victory before 3,506 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena was the result Sunday, Jackson and his No. 8 Fighting Irish reluctantly will take one.

“We’ll try to do some competing so we don’t lose our edge,” Jackson said.

The Irish started the season with a bang in sweeping the Falcons (0-2). Junior left wing Colin Theisen scored a pair of goals and added an assist Sunday, senior center Mike O’Leary had three assists and senior right wing Cal Burke had a goal and assist.

“Mike is playing with a lot more intensity right now,” Jackson said of O’Leary, who had a five-assist weekend. “So far this season he’s been dialed in.”

The Irish also received goals from senior left wing Cam Morrison, sophomore center Jake Pivonka and junior defenseman Matt Hellickson, who had the first of two power-play goals. Defenseman Tory Dello added a pair of assists as 10 players scored points.

Leading 2-1 going into the third, Notre Dame scored three goals in a span of the first 6:57 to chase Air Force goaltender Zach LaRocque and outshot the Falcons 13-6 in the period and 32-23 for the game.

“I told them going into the third period this is a chance to show your maturity,” Jackson said.

Freshman Ryan Bischel recorded his second straight victory for Notre Dame, allowing just a first-period goal by Air Force’s Max Harper and finishing with 22 saves.

“I was pleased with his performance; first time he went back-to-back,” Jackson said of his freshman goalie who will play while All-America goalie Cale Morris continues to mend an upper-body injury. “But the team played well in front of him.”

Notre Dame, which trailed 2-0 after the first period in its 4-2 exhibition victory over the U.S. National Under-18 team two Sundays ago and by the same score in Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Falcons, started strongly. Morrison stole the puck at center ice and then used defender Jake Levin as a screen in beating LaRocque to his stick side at 3:00.

With the game tied 1 after Harper’s late first-period goal, the O’Leary line then took over. The first goal came on a power playing at 2:54 of the second when O’Leary came up with the puck in the mid-slot and fed Dello, who quickly found his blueline partner Hellickson in the faceoff circle to LaRocque’s left. Hellickson then one-timed it past LaRocque.

The Irish led 2-1 going into the third period when they put the game away with three goals in the first 6:57 of the third period. The Irish were on the power play when Theisen made it 3-1 off feeds from O’Leary and Spencer Stastney 35 seconds into the period. Burke made it 4-1 at 4:20 when he rifled home O’Leary’s feed from the slot with Theisen also assisting. Theisen then made it 5-1 at 6:57 by rebounding Dello’s shot from the point past the beleaguered LaRocque, who was then replaced by Alex Schilling.

Pivonka closed out the scoring when his shot, off feeds from Nick Leivermann and Graham Slaggert, just beat the final horn at 19:59.

The O’Leary line finished the weekend with five of the 10 goals the Irish scored while adding eight assists.

“That’s a real positive for us,” Jackson said. “The Graham line (center Mike Graham with wingers Alex Steeves and Morrison) has been impressive, too. I was really happy, too, with both (the) Pivonka and Cam Burke lines.”

Notre Dame returns Friday-Saturday Oct. 25-26 to play host to WCHA member Lake Superior State, the school which Jackson led to a pair of NCAA titles in the 1990s.

Notre Dame 5, Air Force 1

At Lefty Smith Rink, South Bend

Air Force 1 0 0 — 1

Notre Dame 1 1 4 — 6

First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 2 (unassisted) EV 3:00; 2. Air Force, Max Harper 1 (Zach Mirageas, Trevor Stone) EV 17:47. Penalties: Air Force 0-0, Notre Dame 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: 3. Notre Dame, Matt Hellickson 1 (Tory Dello, Mike O’Leary) PP 2:54. Penalties (total): Air Force 2-4 (2-4), Notre Dame 0-0 (1-2).

Third Period—Scoring: 4. Notre Dame, Colin Theisen 2 (Spencer Stastney, Mike O’Leary) PP 0:35; 5. Notre Dame, Cal Burke 2 (Mike O’Leary, Colin Theisen) EV 4:20; 6. Notre Dame, Colin Theisen 3 (Tory Dello, Cal Burke) EV 6:57; 7. Notre Dame, Jake Pivonka 1 (Nick Leivermann, Graham Slaggert) EV 19:59. Penalties (total): Air Force 2-4 (4-8), Notre Dame 2-4 (3-6).

Power-play opportunities—Air Force 0 of 2; Notre Dame 2 of 3.

Faceoffs won—Air Force 21 (9-3-9); Notre Dame 38 (6-19-13).

Blocked shots—Air Force 14 (2-9-3); Notre Dame 18 (11-2-5).

Shots on goal—Air Force 23 (10-7-6); Notre Dame 32 (8-11-13).

Goalie saves—Air Force, Zach LaRocque 20 (7-10-3) and Alex Schilling 6 (0-0-6); Notre Dame, Ryan Bischel 22 (9-7-6).

Records—Air Force 0-2-0, Notre Dame 2-0-0.


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