Know Your Enemy: No. 9 Penn State Hockey vs. No. 5 Notre Dame
No. 9 Penn State men’s hockey (10-4-1, 2-3-1 Big Ten) will host No. 5 Notre Dame at Pegula Ice Arena this weekend for its final home series of the calendar year.
The Nittany Lions will try to bounce back from their first series defeat of the season after falling to Wisconsin last weekend when the defending Big Ten champions visit Hockey Valley.
Notre Dame (10-4-1, 4-2-0 Big Ten) isn’t setting the Big Ten on fire like it did last season when it won the conference, but Jeff Jackson’s program is still among college hockey’s elite.
The Fighting Irish are riding a six-game winning streak which includes sweeps over Michigan State and RPI. Their series against higher-quality competition haven’t gone as well. No. 7 Ohio State and No. 15 Michigan each held the team to a split, while No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth swept Notre Dame earlier this year.
Much like last year, the key to Notre Dame’s success comes in between the pipes and on defense. Cale Morris is back, and he’s still one of the best goalies in the Big Ten, while the Fighting Irish’s defensive core is led by Bobby Nardella, Andrew Peeke, and Matt Hellickson.
Junior wing Cal Burke is having his best season yet for Notre Dame, leading the team with 17 points in 15 games. He’s taken up the right flank along with Dylan Malmquist and Jack Jenkins, who are second and seventh among Fighting Irish forwards in scoring with 13 and 7 points, respectively.
Joe Wegwerth is a standout senior up front for the Fighting Irish, but his status for this weekend’s series is unknown. He’s second on the team with seven goals, but missed last weekend’s series against RPI due to an apparent upper-body injury. He got hurt in his team’s November 16 game against Michigan State and hasn’t played since.
Players like Cam Morrison and Alex Steeves have had to step up in Wegwerth’s absence. Morrison has four goals and five assists this campaign, while Steeves has chipped in five goals.
Defense & Goaltending
Notre Dame has conceded the least goals per game in college hockey this season. The Irish’s average of 1.67 goals allowed per game ties them with Bowling Green for the stingiest defensive group in the nation. Elite goaltending and a deep defensive core have helped the team smother its opponents all season long.
Cale Morris is back to his old tricks in between the pipes. He’s 7-4-1 with a .939 save percentage and is averaging 1.83 goals against in 12 appearances this season. His save percentage ranks second and his goals-against average ranks fifth in the country. If Morris doesn’t play, Dylan St. Cyr can step in and compete at a high level. St. Cyr has conceded just one goal in each of his three starts while posting a .965 save percentage.
Bobby Nardella leads Notre Dame’s deep group of defensemen in front of the goalies with five goals and 11 assists this season. Matt Hellickson, Andrew Peeke, and Tory Dello anchor the rest of the Fighting Irish’s top four on the blue line.
Notre Dame might not be setting the world on fire like it did last season, but make no mistake: A really, really good hockey team is coming to Pegula Ice Arena this weekend.
The Fighting Irish will win 5-3 on Friday night, but expect the Nittany Lions to pick up a signature 4-2 victory on Saturday evening to earn a split.
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