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Frozen Four Preview: Notre Dame

2017 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships - Semifinals Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Even as I was writing this tweet, I had a pretty good feeling that I would be seeing the Irish play again. Notre Dame’s style of play is conservative to the point of tedium. But they play that way because it works. They’re a team founded on the principle that if they can eliminate odd-man rushes against, and limit the number of quality shots against, the opposition won’t have the skill to create enough offense to win. And in college hockey, that’s a gamble that usually pays off.

Here’s Notre Dame’s projected line chart. Top-50 NHL prospects are bolded. Other NHL prospects are in italics.

26 Morrison 18 Evans 13 Theisen

25 Malmquist 15 Oglevie 11 Burke

9 Cook 19 O’Leary 28 Jenkins

21 Wegwerth 8 Steeves

4 Gilbert 20 Wade

3 Gross 22 Peeke

5 Hellickson 27 Nardella

6 Dello

32 Morris

Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie are Notre Dame’s top two forwards. After starting the year on the same line, Notre Dame switched Oglevie to center on the second line and after going on a long winning streak, have kept him up the middle ever since. Both players are creators with the puck and, this probably goes without saying for every Notre Dame player, good defensively.

Evans is a smooth puckhandler and passer that has added a lot of strength over the course of his career at Notre Dame to become one of college hockey’s top playmakers. He’ll look to set-up Cam Morrison, a second round NHL Draft pick with an excellent shot. Colin Theisen does the dirty work for that line winning puck battles and getting the puck to Evans with space to operate.

Oglevie doesn’t quite have the skill of Evans, but his combination of speed and strength makes him a wrecking ball on the ice. He wins a lot of puck battles and is going to create a lot of opportunities for two decent finishers in Cal Burke and Dylan Malmquist.

The bottom two lines are mostly there to eat minutes for the Irish. In fact, they don’t even dress a full fourth line, opting instead to play seven defensemen. If Notre Dame scores enough to win this weekend, the offense is most likely to start with Evans and Oglevie.

The blue line is where Notre Dame really shines. I’ve said I’m picking the team with the best blue line, and to me, Notre Dame is that team. There’s a lot of talent on the blue line, and even though they don’t use that advantage to push the play up the ice, they’re really good in the defensive zone.

Jordan Gross is the guy that stands out the most, with 28 points in 38 games, though he’s a bit of an anamoly on the Notre Dame blue line. Gross is a pure offensive defenseman that runs Notre Dame’s power play and has been very effective distributing the puck and getting shots through to the net. The downside is that Gross can be a bit of a defensive liability. They’ll need his offense to give more than his defense takes away this weekend.

The rest of the blue line is where Notre Dame really shines though. They’re a bit boring offensively, but rock solid defensively. Andrew Peeke and Dennis Gilbert are both big defensemen that can skate really well. Justin Wade and Tory Dello aren’t quite as elite, but are both big, strong, athletic defensemen that will play within themselves and not make many mistakes. Bobby Nardella and Matt Hellickson are both more in the mold of Gross, but make up for less offensive output by playing a much quieter defensive game.

And in goal, the Irish have one of the best goalies, at least statistically-speaking, in the country in Cale Morris. Morris is a solid goalie and excellent at controlling rebounds. That said, I don’t think he’s unbeatable. When you look at his .945 save percentage, I don’t think those extra 2.5 saves/100 are coming from mind-blowing stops that no other goalie is going to make. I really think it’s the defense in front of him that is limiting the quality of shots he sees and he’s picking up some extra saves that way. He’s very solid, but if a team is getting clean, open looks at him, the battle is already half-won.

Keys to the weekend:

  1. Score some goals

Notre Dame’s strategy to win every game 2-1 earned them a 16-game win streak in the first half of the season, but became slightly less effective in the second half of the season. That makes sense. Teams get better throughout the year, they execute a little more. The three other teams come in this weekend all playing pretty well, and one would hope they’ll at least be able to find some offense. Notre Dame may have to count on something besides their opponent’s failures to win this weekend.

2. Play from ahead

If Notre Dame can gain an early lead, that will allow them to play even more conservatively and slow the game down even more. A two-goal deficit can feel like a mountain against a team that doesn’t give up many quality scoring chances.

3. Best players need to step up

Evans and Oglevie are difference-makers on offense, and if Notre Dame is going to score enough to win, the offense is likely going to have to come from those guys. I think Oglevie in particular is an under-appreciated player that is going to have a big weekend.