Nick Leivermann, Notre Dame skaters seek quicker starts and stronger finishes at Wisconsin

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame defenseman Nick Leivermann (4) 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 — Captain Nick Leivermann knows No. 18 Notre Dame has left itself little margin for error as it begins a final stretch of 14 Big Ten Conference regular-season games this weekend at Wisconsin.

“We’re at a point in our season where it is do or die,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound second-year grad defenseman said earlier this week as the Fighting Irish (9-9-2 overall, 4-5-1 Big Ten) prepared for games against the last-place Badgers (8-12-0, 1-9-0 Big Ten) Friday and Saturday nights at the Kohl Center in Madison.

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Notre Dame finds itself tied for fifth place with Michigan in the Big Ten with 12 points each, 18 behind first-place (and No. 1) Minnesota and 10 behind second-place (and No. 5) Penn State. Third-place (No. 13) Michigan State is eight points ahead of Notre Dame but fourth-place (No. 12) Ohio State is just three. Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan State all have played 12 of their 24 league games; the Irish, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin each have played 10.

For the Irish to make any headway in the standings, they need to start winning first games of series. Notre Dame is just 3-7 in opening games this season, including 1-4 in Big Ten series openers. “Coach (Jeff Jackson) has been preaching to us that fast starts are a necessity,” added Leivermann, who is second on the team in scoring with five goals and eight assists for 13 points.  

“We’re not giving ourselves a chance to sweep,” said Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to a pair of NCAA titles back in the 1990s and has guided Notre Dame to eight conference championships, 12 NCAA Tournament berths and four Frozen Four appearances in his previous 17 seasons. 

Notre Dame defenseman Nick Leivermann (4) during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

A 5-0 shutout of current No. 13 Michigan State back on Oct. 28 is the only Friday victory by the Irish in league play this season. In the four league opening games since, Notre Dame has scored six goals and surrendered 19.

“We either find ourselves taking too many penalties or giving up too many goals early,” Leivermann continued. Jackson has tried just about everything, including juggling his lines game to game (sometimes even period to period or shift to shift) and sitting players for taking unnecessary penalties.

“For every game from now on, we need to bring a playoff mentality and start playing a little more desperate than we did in the first half,” said Leivermann, an Eden Prairie, Minn., native. “I think that will bring more success.”

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The 24-year-old Leivermann, a seventh-round (187th player overall) pick of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2017 NHL Draft, finished last season with career-highs of six goals and 27 points as Notre Dame went 28-12 and came within two goals of making the Frozen Four. He elected to return for a second graduate season to work on his defensive game. Jackson named him the team’s captain prior to the season.

“I think Nick has done a good job as captain,” Jackson said. “He’s different from many of the leaders we’ve had -- he’s probably a little more business-like in the way that he approaches it. He’s a really mature young man.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Wisconsin Badgers

When/Where: Friday night at 8 EST and Saturday night at 6:30 EST in Kohl Center (15,359) at Madison, Wis. 

Radio: WZOC-FM (94.3) and

TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Wisconsin Extra Friday and Big Ten Network Saturday.

Records/Rankings: Notre Dame (9-9-2 overall, 4-5-1 Big Ten for 12 points) is No. 18 in USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ poll, No. 20 in DCU/ media poll and No. 15 in NCAA Tournament PairWise Comparison Rankings. … Wisconsin (8-12-0 overall, 1-9-0 Big Ten for 3 points) is not ranked in either poll and is No. 35 in PairWise rankings.

Coaches: Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson, 385-239-68 in 18th season at Notre Dame and 567-291-93 in 24th season overall. … Wisconsin, Tony Granato, 100-118-16 in seventh season at school and overall.

Rivalry: Wisconsin leads series 48-30-9, including 23-13-3 in games played at Madison. … First game of rivalry was played on outdoor Badin Rink at Notre Dame with Irish prevailing 3-0 on Feb. 18, 1922. … Teams played seven times last season with Irish winning five. … The last meetings came March 4-6 in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament best-of-three quarterfinals at Compton Family Ice Arena with Notre Dame rallying following 3-1 opening loss with 3-2 and 4-2 victories.

Scouting Fighting Irish: Notre Dame split non-conference series with visiting Alaska, losing 3-2 on Dec. 31 and winning 2-0 on Jan. 1. … Junior right wing Ryder Rolston leads team in scoring with six goals, eight assists and 14 points followed by graduate defenseman Nick Leivermann (5-8-13), grad center Chayse Primeau (4-8-12) and senior right wing Trevor Janicke (4-8-12). … Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel (9-9-1 record, 2.53 goals-against average, .926 saves percentage) is tied for the nation’s lead in shutouts with four and is third nationally with 617 saves. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams through Jan. 1): Scoring offense, 2.45 goals per game (46th); scoring defense, 2.85 goals per game (35th); scoring margin, -0.40 goals per game (40th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.497 (611-619) (34th); power-play percentage, 0.136 (9 of 66) (50th); power-play goals scored, 9 (47th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.795 (58 of 73) (35th); shorthanded goals scores, 1 (30th); penalty minutes per game, 12.35 (12th).

Scouting Badgers: Wisconsin beat Lake Superior State 4-0 Dec. 28 but lost 3-1 to Clarkson Dec. 29 in championship game of Kwik Trip Holiday Face-Off tournament in Milwaukee. … Freshman right wing Cruz Lucius (8-10-18), sophomore defenseman Corson Ceulemans (5-8-13), grad center Brock Caufield (7-5-12) and junior left wing Mathieu De St. Phalle (2-8-10) lead Badgers in scoring. … Senior Jared Moe has a 7-9-0 record with a 2.78 goals-against average, .913 saves percentage and two shutouts. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams through Jan. 1): Scoring offense, 2.50 goals per game (41st); scoring defense, 3.20 goals per game (44th); scoring margin, -0.70 goals per game (45th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.546 (641-534) (6th); power-play percentage, 0.165 (14 of 85) (44th); power-play goals scored, 14 (31st); penalty-kill percentage, 0.798 (67 of 84) (33rd); shorthanded goals scores, 4 (5th); penalty minutes per game, 12.00 (15th). 

Quoting Jeff Jackson: “We have to find a way to score more … and we have to play better on the first night of a two-game series (3-7-0 first night; 6-2-2 second night). That’s something that has to get fixed. We’re not giving ourselves a chance to sweep.”

Next up: Notre Dame is host to No. 1 Minnesota Friday-Saturday, Jan. 13-14. … U.S. Under-18 team visits Wisconsin for Friday, Jan. 13 exhibition.