SOUTH BEND – Usually in previous hockey seasons when our Lady reached January, Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson picked his goalie.
“I’m usually a one-goal guy,” said Jackson, the school’s all-time winningest coach who was a backup goaltender during his playing days at Michigan State in the 1970s. 1970 under the direction of Ron Mason, the American Hockey Hall of Fame coach.
When Notre Dame made Frozen Four runs under Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to two NCAA titles in 1992 and 1994, the Fighting Irish did so behind fiery goalies all season long like Jordan Pearce (2008), Mike Johnson (2011), Cal Petersen (2017), Cale Morris (2018). Morris, in fact, won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goaltender on the eve of Notre Dame’s 2-1 loss to champion Minnesota Duluth.
This season, 13th-ranked Notre Dame (15-6 overall, 8-4-0 Big Ten for 22 points and fourth-placed) has gotten exceptional goaltending from two goaltenders – junior Ryan Bischel and the transfer of (Cornell) graduate Matthew Galajda – and Jackson is content to share their weekend duties, which is against his nature. This is because the Irish, who visit No. 15 ohio state (15-6-1, 7-4-1 Big Ten for 23 points and tied for second with Michigan) tonight and Saturday night, are the only team among 59 to play Division I hockey with two goaltenders in the Top 10 save percentage.
“I’m fine with it right now,” Jackson said. “We have two guys with 92-93% save percentage, and that for me is the No. 1 stat that I rate.”
Bischel is seventh in save percentage at .932, while Galajda is 10th at .926. They are also in the top 10 in goals against average – Bischel is seventh at 1.848; Galajda eighth at 1.921. Galajda, who was a two-time Mike Richter Award finalist at Cornell before graduating and moving to Notre Dame to replace Notre Dame graduate Dylan St. Cyr, is seventh in winning percentage (9-3 for .750) while Bischel is tied at 12th (6-3 for .667). In shutouts, Galajda has two and Bischel one.
Last weekend at Penn State, Bischel got the start on Friday after his 5-0 shutout against Niagara on Jan. 2 and responded with a 4-2 win over the Nittany Lions with a career-high 38 saves, one of more than he had had in second. game of his two-game overtime sweep with Notre Dame at then-No. 1 Michigan in November.
On Saturday night, when Notre Dame rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit to a 5-4 overtime win over the Nittany Lions, Galajda shut out RIT 6-0 and Wisconsin 3- 0 earlier this season hit a season high. 35 stops.
“As long as they can both contribute and be successful, it’s not hard to play both,” Jackson said. Which begins the series opener Friday at 7 (teams play at 8 Saturday) only Jackson knows for sure.
The Irish last played coach Steve Rohlik’s Buckeyes on Dec. 2-3 at Compton Family Ice Arena’s Lefty Smith Rink, Jackson started with Galajda, who was rusty after a layoff of more than three weeks and gave up four goals over Ohio State. 28 shots on goal in a 4-2 loss. Bischel was given the go-ahead the following night and stopped 24 of Buckeye’s 25 shots as Notre Dame chased Czech Republic’s excellent Ohio State freshman Jacob Dobeš 6-foot 4 inches in the third period.
Dobeš made 33 saves in a 5-3 win and 38 more in a 2-2 overtime tie (and eventual 2-1 shootout win) at Wisconsin last weekend for the Buckeyes, who are 7 -0-1 in their last eight games since a 5-2 loss to Michigan on Dec. 10. In 20 games, goaltender Buckeye is 14-5-1 (.725 winning percentage, ninth nationally), .927 save percentage (ninth) and 2.137 goals against. average (14th).
Jackson was impressed.
“(Dobeš) has really good athleticism,” Jackson said. “He’s a big guy but he also plays big. He challenges the shooter as well as anyone in our conference. He’s way above his fold in a lot of shooting situations, and he gives you nothing. what to shoot at. In first grade, he showed good balance.