Tuesday afternoon, the Michigan hockey team captured a come-from-behind, 6-4 victory against Michigan State to claim third place for the second straight year in the Great Lakes Invitational.
Three days later, the Wolverines (3-5-2-1 Big Ten, 8-8-2 overall) will need to carry this momentum on short rest as they face their toughest opponent yet: No. 2 Notre Dame.
In its first conference matchup of 2018, Michigan will square off against the powerhouse Fighting Irish (10-0-0-0, 16-3-1) in the first of two home-and-home series this season — this Friday in Ann Arbor and Sunday in South Bend.
With Notre Dame joining the Big Ten this season, the two programs renew their annual rivalry. It officially started in 1923 and spanned from 1971-1981 and 1992-2012, when the Fighting Irish were part of the WCHA and CCHA, respectively — two conferences in which many Big Ten teams also competed.
With a quick turnaround following the GLI, the Wolverines have had limited practice time, taking a mandatory day off Wednesday and participating in a short skate Thursday.
“It’s a weird week,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson Tuesday. “You’d like to have a normal week to practice and prepare, especially for a team like Notre Dame, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay we played a couple of games and we had to battle.”
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is well-rested, idle since dominating Wisconsin, 6-2, on Dec. 9.
Unstoppable of late, the Fighting Irish have won 13 straight games, the longest active winning streak in the country and school history while competing in a NCAA Division I conference. They are the first Big Ten team to win its first 10 conference games in a season.
Notre Dame is also the nation’s only team without a road loss, and its 8-0-0 record is tied for the most wins in the NCAA on unfamiliar ice.
During the current win streak, sophomore goaltender Cale Morris started each game, posting a .960 save percentage, 1.38 goals-against average and four shutouts.
Sophomore forward Cal Burke leads a balanced offensive attack with a team-high 12 goals, including seven over the last five games. Senior forward Jake Evans boasts 28 points — seven goals and 21 assists — through 20 games.
The Wolverines have a hot hand of their own in forward Cooper Marody. The junior is coming off a five-point performance at the GLI, including his second career hat-trick against Michigan State, earning him Big Ten First Star of the Week.
However, Michigan will continue to play without three of its best players. Sophomore forward Will Lockwood, freshman forward Josh Norris and freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes were selected to the United States National Team for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., taking them off the Wolverines’ roster from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Despite the wear and tear from the hard-fought GLI games, lack of preparation time and shortage of star playmakers, Pearson is still confident his team will be ready for the Big Ten’s best.
“They haven’t played in a while, so we have to be ready to go and I think we will be,” Pearson said. “We have to get after them. I’m really looking forward to it, the opportunity for our team to play Notre Dame at Yost Ice Arena.
“It elevated the whole Big Ten by adding Notre Dame. They’ve been really good, and good for them, but we’ll show up on Friday.”