January 20, 2018
By John Heisler
The trappings of a consensus number-one ranking and a record win streak were on full display for the University of Notre Dame hockey program Friday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The students came out in full force, packing the west end and highlighted by an upsized Irish pep band.
There was not an empty seat to be found anywhere, as a record crowd of 5,630 included fans lined two and three deep in standing room areas.
All those spectators--including Chicago Blackhawks general manager and Notre Dame alumnus Stan Bowman--saw an entertaining night of hockey featuring two Irish goals in the first 12 minutes, a penalty shot for visiting and 18 th-rated Wisconsin in the Badgers' first appearance in South Bend in 13 years, a late second-period dustup that produced 23 minutes in penalties and an empty-netter for the home team that clinched the verdict with 38.5 seconds remaining.
Notre Dame won 4-2, its 16th consecutive win, now the longest streak in Irish history--topping by one the 15-game string put together by Notre Dame in the early 1980s when the Irish for a season operated as a club team.
In reality, this was a matchup of two goaltenders--Notre Dame's Cale Morris and Wisconsin's Kyle Hayton--who lived a few streets away from each other in Colorado and often played floor hockey as kids in Hayton's basement.
This time Morris (33 saves) earned the victory. He was just one of the reasons the Irish will take a 19-3-1 mark to the United Center for a second matchup Sunday with the Badgers (3 p.m. EST).
"Let's make sure the rest of our season is about effort and discipline," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson told his team before the first puck was dropped. "Let's take advantage of the opportunity to be at home tonight."
And so the Irish did.
Wisconsin took a holding penalty just more than two minutes into the action (the first of six power-play opportunities provided to the Irish), the Badgers were called for cross-checking 6:29 into the fray and that time junior center Andrew Oglevie needed 39 seconds to put Notre Dame on top.
That first goal came in a bizarre sequence in which the officials initially ruled no-goal on Oglevie's attempt and play continued for another 1:17 until Wisconsin's Cameron Hughes actually scored a goal. But the officials went to replay, determined Oglevie's shot had indeed found the net. That made it 1-0, wiped out the Badger goal and reset the clock to the time of Oglevie's marker.
Notre Dame captain Jake Evans made it 2-0 almost 12 minutes into the period, sniping one into the right side of the net on a breakaway from Cam Morrison.
The Badgers cut it to a single goal on a penalty shot by Trent Frederic with about two minutes remaining, only to see Notre Dame defender Andrew Peeke push the score to 3-1 in the final 47 seconds.
Against a Badger team whose only Big Ten road wins have come against Michigan State and Minnesota, Notre Dame scored three first-period goals against Wisconsin--the first time that's happened to Tony Granato's club this year.
In fact, the only time Wisconsin (11-12-3 overall, 5-8-2 in Big Ten play) has allowed three goals in any period in 2017-18 came when Notre Dame did that in the third period of the Dec. 9 6-2 Irish win in Madison.
Jackson stressed defense at the break after three Wisconsin breakaways and another two-on-one chance in the first period--and his Irish complied.
"We've got the lead, we've got to go after these guys, but we've got to be smart. Possess the puck, control the puck. Chip the puck in behind their defense and play with discipline," Jackson told his squad.
Neither team scored in the second period--with Morris' 13 saves marking the most by either net-minder in any of the three periods Friday night.
Notre Dame killed off a five-minute penalty to open the third period, only to see Wisconsin's Tarek Baker knock in a rebound 4:17 into that final period to make it 3-2--and just seven seconds after the major penalty had expired.
But Morris and the Irish defense held strong--and after Hayton went to the bench just inside the two-minute mark senior Notre Dame winger Dawson Cook calmly slid in an empty-netter from right in front of the Wisconsin bench with :38.5 on the clock.
"That's what we're going to need to be prepared for in the second half," Jackson told his victorious team. "It's going to be like that every night. That's how teams are going to play you when you've got that target on your back. But you responded really well. You did a great job on the penalty kill, and that's another great job by Caletonight.
"We took care of business in the first period, and we did not give them a whole lot."
As his team heads to Chicago to play Sunday, Jackson likes the idea that his players have another chance to play in a major-league arena.
He's also banking on the fact that his Irish haven't forgotten their last trip to the United Center last spring when they fell to Denver in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals.
"It's a big venue and a big situation," noted Jackson.
Notre Dame's head coach understands that while the external focus will continue to be on the reality that the Irish haven't lost since October, Jackson knows his team "needs to stay focused on the areas to improve our game. If we do that everything else will take care of itself."
Life is good when your team is 13-0-0 in league play.
Jackson's goal is to make sure his Irish continue to appreciate the work it took to get them to this point.