Before this hockey season started, Tom Anastos said he picked Notre Dame’s program to be one of the top teams in the country.
Fifteen games in for the Fighting Irish (11-4-0 overall, 7-1-0 CCHA), the MSU hockey (4-8-2 overall, 3-6-1-0 CCHA) head coach is right so far, as Notre Dame currently is sitting at No. 4/5 on the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and the Division I men’s hockey RPI polls.
The Spartans are getting ready for what they expect to be an extremely strong defensive showing from Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame, I think, is not just a good defensive team, I think they’re a good offensive team,” Anastos said. “They have a lot of talent on their team. I think that they’re playing with lots of confidence in the games that I’ve watched back. They possess the puck really hard in the offensive zone, they’re attacking it hard through the neutral zone and they play a really good two-way style of hockey.”
Notre Dame, ranked second in the CCHA, is first in the league in scoring defense and second in the NCAA with an average of 1.67 goals per game.
In MSU’s past two series, Ohio State last weekend and Miami (Ohio) the weekend before, in which the Spartans went 0-3-1, MSU struggled to find a way to work around the strong defensive corps of those two teams. Miami (Ohio) is fourth in the country in team defense, and Ohio State is close behind them at sixth.
They clearly live up to their rankings, given MSU only scored three goals total throughout those four games.
“We obviously know they’re a really good team, really skilled,” freshman defenseman Travis Walsh said of Notre Dame. “We’re just going to have to go out and take the good things we did this weekend — and I do think we did some good things — and try to implement them to a full 60 minutes Friday night and do it again Saturday night.”
Freshman defenseman John Draeger said just because the team is struggling to find the back to the net, doesn’t mean the players necessarily are playing poorly.
He said he thinks a mental block might be playing into it, and when MSU gets over that block, the goals will start coming.
“We just have to find the back of the net, get pucks to the net, just keep doing the things we’re doing,” Draeger said. “When you get a good chance, you just have to bury it. I think it’s more of a mental thing right now. We’re working hard and getting in the right spots. We just have to have that mentality that we’re going to score when we get a good chance.”