Saturday, December 4, 2021

Icers preparing to face Irish in first CCHA road matchup

October 26, 2000
Junior defender Andrew Hutchinson (24) charges with the puck against the U.S. National Development Team during the game in Munn Ice Arena Oct 3. —

Playing on the road for the first time in the CCHA season, the men’s ice hockey team will battle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tonight and Friday at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.

Not only will the series be the only meeting between the Spartans (2-1-1) and the Irish (2-3-1) this season, but MSU will have to face Notre Dame without two veteran players.

Senior center Andrew Bogle and junior center Joe Goodenow will not play this weekend because of shoulder injuries. Both players also missed MSU’s home-opening series against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.

“At this level of hockey, strength means a lot,” Mason said. “Bogle’s our biggest, strongest center. He centers our senior line with (Sean) Patchell and (John) Nail, which is the line that can really neutralize the opponent.”

The Spartans are 1-1 in the CCHA after splitting a series against Nebraska-Omaha at Munn Ice Arena. The Mavericks won the first game 2-1 behind outstanding play by freshman goaltender Dan Ellis.

MSU bounced back to win the finale on Saturday 4-1, notching three power play goals. Junior right winger Adam Hall added three points in the winning effort.

“It’s all about gelling together on the ice. All five players have to play off each other properly,” Mason said. “Saturday was the first time that really happened. We want to build on that.”

Underclassmen have given the Spartans a welcome lift this season, especially in the absence of Bogle and Goodenow.

Rookie center Jeremy Jackson is third on the team with four points (one goal, three assists). Center Tim Hearon and defenseman Joe Markuson have also both played “extremely well,” Mason said.

In another surprise, the Spartans’ preseason goalie controversy has fizzled into an afterthought four games into the season. Sophomore Ryan Miller has started every game in net for the Spartans, leaving his senior counterpart Joe Blackburn on the bench.

The duo split time last year with strong results as Miller went 16-5-3 with a 1.53 goals against average and Blackburn went 11-6-1 with a 2.17 GAA.

Mason said he still plans on utilizing both goalies, but has been playing Miller because he’s “on a roll.” Miller holds a 1.97 GAA and a .922 saves percentage through the first four games.

“Joe (Blackburn) is very capable. He’s proven that he can play in this league and be an All-American,” Mason said. “Sometimes one goalie is getting the breaks, so we’re going to ride that for a while.”

Notre Dame faltered to start the season, dropping games to Minnesota and Boston College. Since then, they have tied Niagara, beaten Wayne State and split a series with Northeastern.

The Irish have yet to play a CCHA game.

“Notre Dame is a tough team,” Mason said. “They’re a lot better than they were earlier this season. Playing on the road, it’s critical to get ahead and keep pressure on the home team.”

After winning only half of their first four games, the Spartans have slipped in the two major national polls.

MSU is now eighth in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and ninth in the USA Today poll after starting the season in the top five in both.

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