Bischel’s fourth shutout helps Notre Dame split with visiting Alaska

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel (30) in net during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — In Notre Dame’s first hockey game of the new year, its most valuable player once again came to the rescue of his teammates.

Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel turned aside 25 shots for his fourth shutout of the season as the 17th-ranked Irish ended visiting Alaska’s five-game winning streak with a 2-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 4,911 fans Sunday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

“Ryan stood tall for us, especially in the second period,” coach Jeff Jackson said after his team evened its record at 9-9-2 by ending the five-game winning streak of coach Erik Largen’s Nanooks (10-8-2). “He has to play well for us to win, especially a team that is that good defensively. They are a hard, heady team and well-coached. They don’t get the recognition they probably deserve.”

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Game 1:Notre Dame ends year with another first-night loss – a 3-2 setback to Alaska

Junior defenseman Drew Bavaro scored what proved to be the game-winner at 14:17 of the first period. Bavaro, a transfer from Bentley, took a nice cross-ice feed from little-used, 6-foot-4, 216-pound freshman left wing Niko Jovanovic and whistled a 30-foot blast through a screen provided by 6-foot-6 right wing Jack Adams past goaltender Matt Radomsky, who befuddled the Irish on New Year’s Eve with 32 saves in a 3-2 Alaska victory.

“He’s our rock,” Bavaro said of Bischel, who made 11 saves in the second period and 10 more in the third period while his teammates blocked another 15 shots. “In our opinion, he’s the best goaltender in the country.”

Bischel previously blanked high-scoring Western Michigan 2-0 on Oct. 21 in Compton with 30 saves, a week later made 30 more saves in a 5-0 home shutout of Michigan State and then recorded a 1-0 shutout at Ohio State on Nov. 19 thanks to 37 saves, 19 in the final period. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Minnesota native saw his goals-against average fall to 2.53 (39th nationally) but is now third in the nation with 617 saves and is tied for sixth nationally with his .926 saves percentage. 

“They made a push in the second period, had a couple of good looks, but the guys did a nice job in front of me tonight,” said the soft-spoken Bischel, who with all his success doesn’t need an ice bag for his head but was wearing one on his right knee afterward. “The defense did a good job moving guys out of the way so I could see (the puck). That definitely made it easy.”

Bavaro had two blocked shots, fellow defenseman Ryan Helliwell had four and junior forward/penalty-killer Landon Slaggert three as Bischel stymied the Nanooks. In the second period, the goalie twice robbed Alaska center Payton Matsui on tip-in tries and then closed the door on right wing Matt Koethe three times within five seconds at the midway point.

In the third period after Largen pulled Radomsky for an extra attacker at 18:04, Bischel stopped center Harrison Israels’ close-in shot before Trevor Janicke blocked an attempt by defenseman Arvils Bergmanis at the point. Irish defenseman Nick Leivermann retrieved the blocked puck and fed Janicke, who worked his way into the Alaska offensive zone and wristed a 50-footer into the vacated net at 18:41 for the breathing room the Irish needed.

“I guess it takes us getting punched in the face to get us fired up,” Bischel said just 24 hours after their frustrating loss to the Nanooks. Notre Dame is now 6-2-2 in second games after going 3-7 in openers this season. “We’ve got to find the motivation to play great from the start of the weekend.”

The Irish will attempt to change that Friday and Saturday nights when they return to Big Ten play at Wisconsin.