The Notre Dame Fighting Irish put on a power play clinic Saturday night, scoring six goals with the man-advantage, as they bested the Bowling Green Falcons, 9-1, at the BG Ice Arena.
The No. 5 Irish extended their unbeaten streak to eight games, and their unbeaten streak against the Falcons to 14.
Notre Dame capitalized on 18 minor penalties against the Falcons to wear down their opponents via special teams play. The Irish used good puck movement to find open lanes leading to their six power-play goals.
“The biggest thing against the penalty kill and pressure is puck movement,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “It’s about getting pucks back and moving the puck before teams have a chance to get into the defensive posture. I thought our puck movement was extremely good all weekend.”
“All of our guys on the power play came ready to play,” said junior defenseman Brett Blatchford. “We had good puck movement. They got the puck back to the point every single time. We dumped the puck in, and our guys were working to get the puck back. When we did that and had the puck, we made smart plays.”
Blatchford picked up a pair of assists tonight to bring his point total to 12 on the year, matching his 2007-2008 totals.
“I like being on the power play, I’ll say that,” said the Temperance, Michigan native. “The guys that I’m working with on the power play unit, they get the puck back to me and they give me an opportunity to make decisions on the point. With [Christian] Hanson’s big body in front, he’s been coming to play every night, and gives us a good, physical presence on the power play.”
Calle Ridderwall, Notre Dame’s sophomore winger, felt the power play units’ play was strong as well.
“Our power play in the past has struggled a little bit, but we’ve really put a lot of time and effort into improving it. We’re finally starting to see some results.”
Ridderwall finished the night with a goal to go with a pair of assists.
For the Falcons, Saturday’s loss was their worst defeat at home since October of 1991, when they came up on the short end of a 10-1 score against Illinois-Chicago.
“It was almost like a snowball that was rolling and we just couldn’t stop it,” said BG coach Scott Paluch. “There’s just no excuse for giving up that many power-play goals. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t play enough five-on-five.”
The special teams affairs started just 19 seconds into the game, when a scrum broke out in front of the Bowling Green bench. After the officials meted out 26 minutes of penalties, the Irish were rewarded with the first of 12 power plays.
“I think they wanted to send a message in their own building,” said Blatchford. “They didn’t want things to turn out like they did last night. They were a very tough team to play against in the first period. They’re a very physical team.”
“That’s hockey,” added Ridderwall of the scrum. “It gets heated out there. Both teams wanted to win badly, and that’s when things happen.”
“BG came out with a lot of fire and energy, and we handled ourselves pretty well,” said Jackson. “Certainly, being able to play against the pressure they were applying and the physicality of the game and not losing our discipline was key.”
Though the Falcons killed off that first Irish power play chance, Notre Dame struck later in the period to take an early lead.
Billy Maday put Notre Dame on the board, firing a shot from the top of the circle that found its way through traffic and eventually through the five-hole of Jimmy Spratt for his seventh goal of the year.
The Falcons tied the game just over three minutes later with a power-play goal of their own. Freshman Nick Bailen recorded his first career goal on a nifty play at the top of the circle. Bailen took a pass from Jacob Cepis, held the shot long enough to get Jordan Pearce moving the other way, then flicked the puck past the goaltender to knot the score at 1-1.
The Fighting Irish scored the game winner midway through the second period with a Ben Ryan power-play goal. Ryan Thang threaded a needle to Ben Ryan between the circles. He slapped the puck past Spratt for his second goal of the season.
Notre Dame increased their lead to 3-1 with yet another power-play tally at 13:24. Blatchford fired a shot toward the net from the point. In the scrum that ensued, Ridderwall was able to sneak one past Spratt for his fourth goal of the season.
With a 3-1 lead going into the final period, Notre Dame exploded for six goals in the third stanza. Markers by Ryan Guentzel, Ridderwall, Christian Hanson, Erik Condra, and Justin White capped the scoring.
Overall, the Irish were pleased with their play on the weekend, particularly on special teams.
“It was a very successful weekend for us,” said Blatchford. “Coming into the building tonight, we figured [Bowling Green] would come out a little ticked off about the game last night, and they did. They came out hard, and we had our hands full at first, but we stuck to our game plan.
“We want to have the best PK in the league, and when the power play is clicking, that’s a plus for us, something we want to be on top of. Coach Pooley has us prepared going into every weekend for anything a team might throw at us.”
Despite the strong special teams play, Jackson would like to see his team play more five-on-five hockey.
“I’d rather play five-on-five,” said Jackson. “Because of the two-man referee system, we’re taking five more minutes of penalties a game than we’re accustomed to, but we’ve got three power play units out there, and I’ve got nine guys killing penalties. I want my guys to stay involved in the game. It’s unfortunate-the game was meant to be played five-on-five. It seems like right now, all it is is a lot of special teams.”