Sunday, February 25, 2024

Focused and ready: Spartan hockey prepared for another shot at No. 3 Notre Dame

After sacrificing the win in the last minutes of the third period, the team is eager to get back on the ice

November 23, 2019
<p>Senior forward Sam Saliba shoots the puck against Notre Dame. The Spartans were defeated by the Fighting Irish, 2-1, at Munn Ice Arena on Nov. 22, 2019. </p>

Senior forward Sam Saliba shoots the puck against Notre Dame. The Spartans were defeated by the Fighting Irish, 2-1, at Munn Ice Arena on Nov. 22, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Prior to the game's start, before the players laced up their skates and made their way onto the ice, they started with a warm-up.  

On opposite sides of the main concourse in Munn Ice Arena, one team looked focused, running through stretches early and making their way down to the locker rooms quickly as they prepared for the game.

The visitors kicked around a soccer ball and threw a football around before they made it to their stretches. Perhaps more comfortable than the team across from them. After all, they weren’t sitting on a 5-5 record. They were No. 3 in the Nation. They had suffered one loss. 

From the observer’s eye, one team looked more focused than the other.

That focus translated into the game, as the Spartans took advantage of their opportunities and locked in, competing with No. 3 through all three periods and two overtimes.

Maybe that’s why it felt like more of an upset than anything else when the Spartans tied with Notre Dame.

The Spartans controlled the game from start to finish. Sure Notre Dame managed to get off more shots on goal, but even then, the Spartans were dictating the pace and the flow of the game for a majority of it.

Notre Dame showed why they were 8-1-1, with great puck control, passing and shot creating, but it felt like the Irish were on their heels.

Through the first period, Notre Dame managed double the shots the Spartans did, but senior goaltender John Lethemon started out his career night with nine saves.

The Spartans pulled ahead with a goal from senior right wing Sam Saliba in the second period and they carried that lead with them until there was two minutes left in the third period.

In desperation, Notre Dame made something happen. They tied the score, forced two overtimes and put the Spartans away in shootouts, earning a point and escaping with a draw.  

But, the outcome of the game is something the Spartans know they can’t hang their heads on.

“That was a battle ... I thought our guys worked real hard," Head Coach Danton Cole said. "For the most part I thought the third period we did a nice job. We were moving pucks. We were getting up and you know what there was one bounce at the end and unfortunately they got it in there."

“It was an exciting game, we had some chances … I thought our guys battled hard, Notre Dame played real well, felt like a playoff hockey game.”

Keeping up with the Irish and frustrating the third-ranked team in the nation for a majority of the game is no small feat. The Spartans know they played hard from start to finish and that the draw isn’t indicative of the game they played.

“It’s tough, obviously, you're up one with two minutes there, but they’re a good team. They were coming," Saliba said. "We’re not gonna be satisfied with the point, but I think overall it was just a really hard fought game and could’ve gone either way. ... I liked our push in the overtimes and obviously the shootout comes down to one shot, so you can’t really read much into that.”

“It was really just a chess match out there and I think we did a good job.”

Focused and ready, the Spartans will get another shot at Notre Dame Saturday evening. They plan to rest up and grind out an even tougher game in the second meeting.

“We’re gonna come back tomorrow night even stronger here. We’re not gonna let that happen again,” Lethemon said.

“You wanna complete that game, play a full 60 minutes there and squeak that one out one-nothing. We did a lot of really good things tonight, I don’t think we are gonna get too down on ourselves for that, we’re gonna come back even stronger tomorrow.”

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The Spartans get another chance at the Irish Saturday evening. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.


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