Bavaro and No. 17 Notre Dame opens Big Ten Tourney against No. 20 Michigan State, St. Cyr

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame defenseman Drew Bavaro (24) skates with the puck as Michigan State forward Zach Dubinsky (14) back checks 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 — Drew Bavaro has figured out a lot of things about playing Big Ten hockey for Notre Dame since transferring last summer from Bentley. 

One thing the junior defenseman hasn’t, however, is how to score goals against Dylan St. Cyr, a 2021 graduate of Notre Dame and now a second-year graduate goaltender for No. 20 Michigan State (16-16-2). 

But Bavaro’s brother Vito might be able to provide a few tips before the 17th-ranked Fighting Irish (15-14-5) welcome the Spartans to the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena for a best-of-3, first-round series in the Big Ten Postseason Tournament that begins Friday at 7 p.m.

Last game:Bavaro’s two goals, Bischel’s 49 saves provide Irish home ice after 2-1 OT win at Michigan

“He (Vito) has a hat trick on him (St. Cyr),” the 23-year-old Bavaro laughed after being reminded that brother Vito scored three goals against then Irish freshman St. Cyr in Sacred Heart’s 6-4 victory over fifth-ranked Notre Dame at the Lefty Smith Rink in Compton on Oct. 19, 2017. “I haven’t heard the end of it from him.”

You can bet big brother has eased up on his teasing this week as Drew Bavaro and the Irish prepare for possibly three more games against the 5-foot-8 St. Cyr, who already owns two victories (one a shutout) and a shootout win, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .943 saves percentage in four games against Notre Dame from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2021.

Notre Dame forward Trevor Janicke (27) sets screen in front of Michigan State goaltender Dylan St. Cyr (37) during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

It's a win-or-go-home-for-the-season scenario for both Michigan State and Notre Dame. Both need to be at .500 or better to receive consideration for one of 10 at-large berths into the 16-team NCAA Tournament field which will be announced March 19. The NCAA Frozen Four will be played April 6 and 8 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., about an hour-or-so drive from Bavaro’s home in Lakewood Ranch.

As if Drew Bavaro and the Irish need any more fire to prepare for St. Cyr and the Spartans, who earned 3-0 and 3-2 victories against Notre Dame at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 3-4. 

“Our whole season has been a roller coaster of emotions,” Bavaro reflected. “We obviously have some big wins because we play so many good teams. But we also dropped some games we felt we should have won. Losing two in East Lansing, we felt like we were back again in no-man’s land. We knew we had to get back to work.”

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The Irish did, following the Spartan sweep with a five-point weekend against visiting No. 7 Ohio State and then a four-point effort last weekend at No. 4 Michigan during which Bavaro played a big role. He had a pair of assists in Friday’s 3-3 overtime tie (the Irish won the shootout 1-0) and then scored both goals, the second in overtime, as Notre Dame beat Michigan 2-1. For his efforts, Bavaro was named the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week. 

It was Bavaro’s offensive skills as a defenseman for Bentley University, a suburban Boston member of the Atlantic Hockey Association, that brought Bavaro to the attention of Notre Dame associate head coach Andy Slaggert after the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Bavaro submitted his name to the transfer portal.

“Part of the reason he came here was an opportunity to play in a Big Ten environment,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “He’s grown. His biggest enemy was the inconsistency in the way he played. He did have to improve how he played without the puck, and I still think that’s a work in progress. With his size and his skating ability, he could be an elite defender.”

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Bavaro, who also blocked four shots in the Saturday victory over Michigan, earlier this year had two goals and an assist in Notre Dame’s 6-4 victory at Wisconsin on Jan. 7. He now is tied with graduate defenseman and captain Nick Leivermann for the scoring lead among defensemen with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). 

“Everyone has a goal of playing in the National Hockey League,” Bavaro said. “If you don’t, you’re probably not thinking about the right things at this level. I couldn’t have been happier with my time at Bentley. They gave me an opportunity when not many did. Coming here was the next right step for me. I wanted to play against better players and prove I could do it at this level. Notre Dame, in my opinion, is the best place to play college hockey.”

Michigan State Spartans (16-16-2) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-14-5)

  • What: Big Ten Postseason Tournament, best-of-3, first-round series. … Winner advances to one-game semifinal March 11. 
  • When/Where: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. (if necessary) at Lefty Smith Rink (4,852) in Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend. 
  • Radio: WZOC-FM (94.3) and
  • TV/Streaming: FS2. 
  • Last games: Michigan State was idle last weekend after splitting series at Wisconsin, winning 6-2 Feb. 17 before losing 6-2 Feb. 18. … Notre Dame tied Michigan 3-3 (OT) before 1-0 shootout win Friday and then beat Wolverines 2-1 in overtime Saturday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
  • Rankings: Michigan State is No. 20 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ poll and No. 20 in the media poll… Notre Dame is No. 17 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ poll and No. 19 in the media poll. … In the PairWise Rankings, Notre Dame is tied for No. 13 (with Cornell) and Michigan State is tied for No. 19 (with Connecticut). … In the College Hockey News Power Ratings, Notre Dame is No. 13 with the toughest schedule and Michigan State is No. 14 playing the fourth toughest schedule. 
  • Coaches: Michigan State, Adam Nightingale (16-16-2 in first season at school and overall). … Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson (391-244-71 in 18th season at school and 573-296-96 in 24th season overall). 

All-time rivalry: Spartans lead series 72-52-15 in series which began with 3-1 Irish victory at University Rink in Lansing on Jan. 15, 1927. … Spartans went 2-1-1 this season against Irish and here are roundups of the games: Notre Dame 5, Michigan State 0: On Oct. 28 at the Compton Family Ice Arena, senior goaltender Ryan Bischel made 30 saves and eight different players scored led by Chayse Primeau and Ryder Rolston (one goal and two assists each) and Nick Leivermann and Hunter Strand (one goal and one assist each). Former Notre Dame goaltender Dylan St. Cyr had 28 saves for the Spartans. Notre Dame 1, Michigan State 1 (OT) (Spartans win shootout 2-1): The following night at Compton, Jagger Joshua scored for the Spartans in the first period and Leivermann tied the game in the second. The game ended tied after 65 minutes and was decided by the shootout – Tanner Kelly and Karsen Dorwart scored for MSU to counter Leivermann’s tally. St. Cyr, who made 39 saves to Bischel’s 41 in regulation and overtime, made saves on Jackson Pierson and Rolston to gain the shootout point. Michigan State 3, Notre Dame 0: On Feb. 3 at the Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Nicolas Müller had a goal and two assists while Joshua and Erik Middendorf scored the other Spartan goals. St. Cyr stopped 32 Irish shots for the shutout while Bischel had 24 saves. Michigan State 3, Notre Dame 2: The following night at Munn, the teams traded goals – Dorwart and Müllerfor MSU; Landon Slaggert and Primeau for ND – before David Gucciardi’s goal at 4:00 of the third period proved to be the game-winner. St. Cyr finished with 33 saves while Bischel had 25.

Scouting Spartans: Müller, a senior center from Switzerland, leads Michigan State in scoring with 29 points (seven goals and 22 assists), one more than freshman right wing Daniel Russell (8-20-28) with freshman center Dorwart (9-17-26) and senior left wing Joshua (13-10-23) close behind. … Grad defenseman Cole Krygier has scored 10 goals. … The 5-foot-8 St. Cyr, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2021 and spent a graduate season at Quinnipiac, is 15-16-2 with three shutouts, a 2.84 goals-against average and a .914 saves percentage. … NCAA team statistics (out of 61 teams): Scoring offense, 2.88 goals per game (27th); scoring defense, 3.09 goals per game (41st); scoring margin, -0.21 goals per game (34th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.479 (1,019-1,107) (47th); power-play percentage, 0.192 (23 of 120) (34th); power-play goals scored, 23 (29th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.800 (108 of 135) (35th); shorthanded goals scored, 2 (34th); team penalty minutes per game, 13.76 (7th).

Scouting Fighting Irish: Since the Spartans’ sweep, Notre Dame is 2-0-2, winning shootouts in both tied games against Ohio State and Michigan. … Irish junior defenseman Drew Bavaro is coming off a four-point weekend – two assists on Friday, two goals on Saturday – that earned him the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week honor. … Bavaro now has tied grad defenseman and captain Leivermann with six goals, 12 assists and 18 points. … Grad center Primeau (8-14-22) leads Irish in scoring followed by senior center Trevor Janicke (8-12-20) and junior right wing Rolston (7-13-20). … Bischel, who is now 15-14-4 with four shutouts, leads the nation in saves with 1,095, is second in saves percentage at .932 and is 24th in goals-against average at 2.39 after his performance against the Wolverines. … He followed up Friday’s 32-save performance (plus three shootout saves) with a 48-save performance Saturday that included 26 in the third period. ... NCAA team statistics (out of 61 teams): Scoring offense, 2.35 goals per game (52nd); scoring defense, 2.62 goals per game (22nd); scoring margin, -0.26 goals per game (36th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.495 (1,032-1,051) (35th); power-play percentage, 0.197 (23 of 117) (31st); power-play goals scored, 23 (29th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.754 (92 of 122) (57th); shorthanded goals scored, 2 (34th); team penalty minutes per game, 12.24 (17th).

Elsewhere in Big Ten: No. 7 seed Wisconsin (13-21-0) is at No. 2 seed Michigan (20-11-3) and No. 6 seed Penn State (20-13-1) visits No. 3 seed Ohio State (18-13-3). … No. 1 seed Minnesota (25-8-1) is idle. 

Quoting Jeff Jackson: (How team has responded in its last two series against Ohio State and Michigan)“For me, our execution has been better, our discipline has been better and our compete level has been more consistent. That’s probably the big three. As you know, we’ve been playing shorthanded, but guys have stepped up to fill vacancies and different roles. Those people who have stepped in have stepped up.”

 (His impressions of Michigan State) “I think Adam did a great job when he first came in building his roster, bringing back some fifth-year guys, bringing in a few freshmen … (transfers) like Dylan, the one defenseman (Michael Underwood) they added from the ECAC (Clarkson) and bringing back the Krygier brothers (Cole and Christian). They’ve done an incredible job getting their guys to buy in. It reminds me a lot of when I started at Notre Dame. It’s about building a culture, an identity of how you play the game.”                 

– John Fineran, Tribune Correspondent