With time running out, Slaggert and Notre Dame skaters look to fill Big Ten nets
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame hockey player Landon Slaggert is one who believes that little signs often create the big picture.
“It’s been a struggle for us this year, but we’re starting to find that chemistry within the team and with the lines,” the South Bend native said as the Fighting Irish prepared for a Big Ten weekend series at No. 6 Penn State. “We’re right there. I think a couple of more weekends we’ll have it, and it will be exciting to see. We’re right there.”
Getting there soon is important for coach Jeff Jackson’s team which hasn’t been able to put together two victories in a series since it swept visiting Northern Michigan on Oct. 16.
That was 10 series ago, and the Irish have tumbled out of the Top 20 in both polls with their 10-11-3 record. At 5-7-2 in the Big Ten, Notre Dame is seven points out of the second-place tie involving Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. The Irish also are No. 18 in the latest PairWise rankings of teams hoping for one of the 16 berths to the postseason NCAA tournament.
As much as the Irish have been their own worst enemy taking needless penalties, they have struggled putting the puck into the net, averaging just 2.38 goals (48th out of 60 teams nationally).
A 6-foot, 190-pound junior forward and son of Irish associate head coach Andy Slaggert, Landon was expected to be one of the team’s leading scorers after scoring 12 of his 22 career goals last season while playing with older brother Graham, now skating with the Toronto Marlies of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs organization.
Landon spent a grueling summer on the ice with Team USA in world tournament play and attended a development camp with the Chicago Blackhawks — “a little different than what I was accustomed to,” he said. When the preseason and season started, Slaggert wasn’t right physically, and he eventually sat out the Michigan series in mid-November. He has just two goals and three assists in 22 games.
“I don’t grade my game based on points — that’s not how I determine my success,” the 20-year-old business management major said. “Obviously, it would be nice to have a few more goals, a few more points to help the team. But that’s not how I look at it. I want to help the team any way I can — blocking shots, killing penalties. Hopefully the puck starts going into the net a little bit more to help the team out.”
Slaggert, who has a left-handed shot, has been playing right wing on a line with grad center Chayse Primeau, a transfer from Omaha, and sophomore left wing Justin Janicke. The trio got the Irish started in last Friday’s 2-2 overtime and 1-0 shootout win against No. 2 Minnesota with a power-play goal. Slaggert dug the puck out behind the goal line and fed it into the faceoff circle to Primeau, who passed it over to Janicke for a quick shot and goal.
But the power-play unit has been hot and cold all season and is ranked 49th nationally with just 11 goals in 76 attempts. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel,” Slaggert said.
Despite the 3-0 shutout loss, Notre Dame did manage to outshoot Minnesota 38-22, dominating 5-on-5 play. That’s something they must do this weekend against a Penn State team that leads the nation in shots on goal with 960. In the teams’ December series in South Bend, the Nittany Lions outshot the Irish 89-53. In the second game alone, the edge was 50-22 but the Irish managed a 5-3 victory.
“It really does make a world of difference if your power play and penalty kill are where they need to be,” Slagger said. “We just need to get them there at the right time before the end of the year and in the playoffs to make us a scary team.”
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
- When/Where: Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena (5,704) in State College, Pa.
- Radio: WZOC-FM (94.3) and UND.com.
- TV/Streaming: Big Ten Plus.
- Records: Notre Dame is 10-11-3 overall, 5-7-2 Big Ten for 17 points and fifth place. … Penn State is 17-6-1 overall, 7-6-1 Big Ten for 24 points (tied for second with Ohio State and Michigan State).
- Rankings: Notre Dame is receiving votes in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ poll and DCU-USCHO.com media poll while Penn State is No. 6 in both. … In the NCAA Tournament PairWise Comparison Rankings, Penn State is No. 3 and Notre Dame No. 18. … In the College Hockey News Power Ratings, Notre Dame is No. 1 and Penn State No. 7 in schedule strength.
Coaches: Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson (386-241-69 in 18th season at Notre Dame and 568-293-94 in 24th season overall). … Penn State, Guy Gadowsky (189-158-25 in 11th season at Penn State, 362-356-62 in 23rd season overall).
Rivalry: Teams split series in South Bend Dec. 9-10 with Nittany Lions winning 5-2 Friday before Irish rebounded with 5-3 victory Saturday. … Notre Dame leads 21-8-4 in series which began with 4-4 tie at the Penn State Ice Pavilion on Feb. 10, 1984. … Irish are 8-3-3 in games played in State College and have won last three at Pegula, including 4-2 and 5-4 victories on Jan. 7 and 8, 2022 last season.
Scouting Fighting Irish: Notre Dame won 1-0 shootout after 2-2 overtime tie with No. 2 Minnesota last Friday in South Bend but lost 3-0 to Gophers Saturday despite a 38-24 shot advantage. … Senior right wing Trevor Janicke (7-9-16) paces the Irish in scoring and is followed by junior right wing Ryder Rolston (6-9-15), grad center Chayse Primeau (4-9-13), grad defenseman/captain Nick Leivermann (5-8-13), junior defenseman Drew Bavaro (4-7-11) and senior left wing Jesse Lansdell (4-7-11). … Leivermann will be a game-time decision after sitting out last weekend’s Minnesota series because of an upper-body injury. … Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel was named the Big Ten’s Third Star of the Week after his play against Minnesota. … In Friday’s game, Bischel stopped 36 shots during regulation and overtime before denying all three Minnesota players during the shootout. … For the season, Bischel (10-11-2 record, 2.56 goals-against average and four shutouts) is third nationally in saves (730) and eighth nationally in saves percentage (.924). … In his last meeting with Penn State Dec. 10, Bischel stopped a career-high 47 shots. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams): Scoring offense, 2.38 goals per game (48th); scoring defense, 2.83 goals per game (32nd); scoring margin, -0.46 goals per game (40th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.492 (708-730) (36th); power-play percentage, 0.145 (11 of 76) (49th); power-play goals scored, 11 (47th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.759 (66 of 87) (54th); shorthanded goals scored, 2 (24th); team penalty minutes per game, 12.62 (11th).
Scouting Nittany Lions: Penn State lost 3-2 in overtime at Michigan State last Friday and then lost shootout 3-1 after 4-4 overtime tie with Spartans Saturday. … Nittany Lions have 14 players scoring in double figures led by senior right wing Kevin Wall (12-9-21), senior center Connor MacEachern (8-11-19), senior left wing Connor McMenamin (6-13-19) and senior center Ture Linden (6-13-19). … Junior Jimmy Dowd Jr. (3-10-13), junior Christian Berger (4-7-11) and graduate Paul DeNaples (3-3-6) anchor defense in front of junior goaltender Liam Souliere (15-5-1 record, 2.22 goals-against average, .921 saves percentage, two shutouts). … Penn State leads nation in shots on goal with 960 in 24 games; second-place Michigan State is 74 shots behind and has played two more games. … During December series in South Bend, Nittany Lions outshot Irish 89-53 including 50-22 in Saturday loss. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams): Scoring offense, 3.67 goals per game (9th); scoring defense, 2.46 goals per game (16th); scoring margin, 1.21 goals per game (10th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.543 (840-706) (4th); power-play percentage, 0.169 (15 of 89) (42nd); power-play goals scored, 15 (37th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.790 (49 of 62) (39th); shorthanded goals scored, 2 (24th); team penalty minutes per game, 7.67 (56th).
Quoting Jeff Jackson: “The issues right now are our power play and the penalties – we’re taking too many. Friday night we did a good job staying out of the penalty box (one penalty for two minutes) and had one power-play goal. Saturday night we take 15 minutes in penalties and can’t score on the power play. Those are the two biggest things haunting us.”
(Scoring difficulties) “We had our chances to score (Saturday). You give some credit to their goalie (Minnesota’s Justen Close) and our guys inability to finish breakaways or 2-on-1s. And we had a couple of 4-on-2s. We had odd-man rushes and we didn’t capitalize.”
(Playing in Big Ten) “You have four teams in the Top 10 (Minnesota No. 2; Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State Nos. 6-8). The conference is tough. It is for everybody. Every weekend is a war.”
Next up: On Jan. 27-28, Notre Dame returns home to play Wisconsin while Penn State visits No. 7 Michigan.
— John Fineran, Tribune Correspondent