Everyone says, there is nothing better than championship events. Phrases like: win or go home, survive and move on, or play like it’s your last game. These are all motivational words that you hear before a single elimination game. Last Saturday night at Compton Family Ice Center was no different. The Notre Dame Men’s Hockey team, the regular season B1G Champions, had just such moments to capture. Ahead of them was the Penn State Nittany Lions who were just as hungry. PSU got to this game by sweeping a best of three series against the Golden Gophers. Notre Dame came in with a series record of 3-0-1 against PSU. On the line was the chance to move on to the championship game, to be played on St. Patrick’s Day. You’re probably thinking there is no better team to play on St. Patrick’s than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish is their name, and the Leprechaun is their mascot. There is no better choice.
The Keys to Winning
Prior to the start of the game, five items were written down on a piece of paper. It was a “keys to winning” note. These were observations in which, if executed, should lead to a Fighting Irish victory. The keys were: a strong presence around the offensive net, a strong penalty kill, solid use of the check, play their game and do not give into PSU’s ability to draw them into a penalty.
In their previous games against PSU, the PSU offense came out shooting and shot on goal relentlessly. Saturday night, PSU had shot the puck ten times before the Irish even took their first. The Fighting Irish took just three shots before Jordan Gross lit the lamp on the Irish forth attempt at 6:18. One of the struggles late in the season for the Irish defense was protecting the lead. That struggle would make an appearance at 11:43 into the first period, as Nate Sucese of PSU would score on the power play, tying the game at one. If there is one thing that is true about this team, they have the desire to respond in the moment. After the goal by Sucese, the Irish offense came back with fire in their belly. One shot on goal, then four shots on goal, and then the fifth shot found its way into the back of the net. Shot by Andrew Peeke on the power play, at 14:03, to give the Irish a 2-1 lead. PSU has a way of being a spoiler. Brandon Biro wasted no time in scoring the equalizer, to once again silence the packed Compton Family Ice Arena, as he tied the game at 2-2 at 15:43. A note on the last goal.
At the beginning of the second period, both teams appeared to be tense coming out of the locker room. Both teams seemed to be trying to figure out a way to score on each other. Both teams were pressing hard offensively, and defensively the teams were not letting their opponent gain an upper hand. The goalies seemed to have put up a force field as neither wanted to give that go ahead goal for their opponent. Both teams had a bevy of high percentage shots. PSU had attempted 17 shots on goal, of which 13 were on target. The Irish on the other end had 20 attempted shots, of which 14 were on target. The question remained, who was going to blink first.
Cracking the Defensive Zone
After a first period that saw four goals scored, a second period of no goals scored, the third period was just as intense as the previous two. The importance of the third period was definitely obvious on the ice. Teams once again tried to find a crack in the others defensive zone. The Irish offense took an approach of crowding the net and shooting from mostly the center of their offensive zone. The Lions approach appeared to be to shoot from the area around the right face-off circle and to sprinkle in a couple of shots from around the crease. Neither team was going to flinch. Everyone in attendance seemed to be getting ready for some over-time hockey.
At 19:29, Jack Jenkins ripped a shot from the left face-off circle and slipped the puck by PSU Goalie Peyton Jones. Pandemonium erupted at the arena as the red light had finally been lit by Notre Dame. Coach Jackson commented afterwards about PSU. “They’re one heck of a hockey team. They’re a better hockey team today than they were the last time we played them.” Coach followed up on the play of his team, “I thought our defensive core did a really good job. The win is good for our confidence, considering how we finished the regular season. I thought we did a better job than we have in the past, managing the puck against them, and that’s always a challenge.” Coach was asked about the similarity to the Michigan game of trading goals. Coach Jackson’s response “Stay the course. I (Jackson) had talked to them last night, at our playoff dinner, about the importance of focus. This time of the year focus is everything. How you prepare yourself during game day, in between periods, in between shifts; just stay in the moment. Don’t worry about your shift, or your next shift; just worry about what you are doing at that moment.”
St. Patrick’s Day Matchup
This Saturday night your Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on Ohio State University. Puck drop will be at 8 PM on Saturday Night, St. Patrick’s Day. Come out and support your #IrishPuckers to a B1G Championship Conference championship. Cheers and #GoIrish