No. 5 Penn State pulls away from No. 19 Notre Dame in third period for 5-2 win

Tribune Staff Report
Penn State's Alex Limoges (9) reaches out to grab a puck as Notre Dame’s Jesse Lansdell (14) tries to get it away from him during the Notre Dame vs. Penn State Big Ten Hockey Tournament game Sunday, March 14, 2021 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — On the 16th night before Christmas, Notre Dame didn’t need to be in a giving mood against high-flying, quick-shooting and talented Penn State in the opening game of their Big Ten hockey series Friday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

The 19th-ranked Fighting Irish, whose strength of schedule through 17 games this season is the toughest in the nation, surrendered three third-period goals, two of them into their vacated net, and the Nittany Lions skated away with a 5-2 victory just as many of the 4,357 fans were warming up their arms to toss stuffed animals on the ice for charity.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson was not in a ho-ho-ho mood after the Irish surrendered three bad goals in their defensive zone. That’s guaranteed to put coal in your holiday stocking, something the Irish can’t afford considering their meager offense this season (2.38 goals a game coming into the contest) and power-play inefficiency (no extra-attacker goals since a 3-2 victory over Michigan on Nov. 12, a span of four-plus games).

“It’s frustrating,” said Jackson after his team fell to 7-8-2 overall and 3-5-1 for nine points in the Big Ten. “I thought we did okay after the first period. The last five minutes of the first period was the difference in the game. We broke down in our own end too much and that’s where their strength is.”

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The last breakdown came after Penn State senior center Connor MacEachern was left all alone in front of Irish goalie Ryan Bischel and quickly converted the game-winner at 12:14 of the third period off a backhand pass from senior right wing Kevin Wall who was allowed to skate around the Irish net virtually unopposed.

The Irish had led 1-0 at 13:28 of the first period when Jesse Lansdell skated out of the corner and beat Penn State goaltender Liam Souliere with a backhander over his glove. But Penn State got a pair of goals within 1:14 late in the first period. First Connor McMenamin skated away from the boards and into the slot unheeded to beat Bischel at 17:30. Then grad defenseman Paul DeNaples beat Bischel through a maze of players at 18:44 for a 2-1 lead.

“We have to be better in our own end,” Jackson said after opposing coach Guy Gadowsky kept the pressure on with his four steady lines and a sturdy defense. “When they are playing their game, that’s what they do.”

Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston (12) during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

The Irish tied it at 2-2 at 18:08 of the second period on a power-play goal by junior right wing Ryder Rolston, but then things got away from them in the third period. After MacEachern’s goal at 12:14, Penn State got empty-net goals from freshman defenseman Dylan Gratton (17:50) and DeNaples again (18:29) to improve to 15-4 overall and 7-4-0 in the Big Ten for 22 points.

The Nittany Lions, who seemingly start putting the puck on net the minute it is dropped to open the game, outshot the Irish 39-31. Bischel turned aside 34 other shots, five more than Souliere. Notre Dame won the faceoff war against the nation’s second-best faceoff team, 31-28, the Irish also killed off three penalties and they blocked 19 shots to Penn State’s 12. But it wasn’t enough.

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Penn State is the sixth team Notre Dame has played this season currently ranked in the strength of schedule’s top 10. Five of those teams are in the Big Ten: Minnesota (No. 3), Michigan State (5), Michigan (7), Penn State (8) and Ohio State (9). Four other Irish opponents rank in the Top 20: Denver (4), Boston College (12), Boston University (13) and Western Michigan (19).

The two teams conclude their weekend series Saturday at 6 p.m.