Anders Lee understands the heavy lifting in front of the Notre Dame hockey team this weekend.
Nothing, after all, comes easy against one of the best goaltenders in the country. Last month the Irish faced Ohio State and managed to score just five times against Brady Hjelle despite peppering him with 79 shots over two games.
Hjelle now stands in the way of a berth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association title game. Notre Dame (23-12-3) faces Ohio State on Saturday in the single elimination semifinals.
“We’ve got to get in front of his face,” Lee said. “Put shots on him from all angles. Make him play 60 minutes, make him feel the pressure and feel us in front of the net and not let him see some shots. We had a couple rebound goals in that last game, scrums in front of the net. We know where we need to score.
“We know what we need to do. We can’t let him have any easy perimeter shots or anything like that.”
Executing such a plan will be no simple task.
Hjelle is allowing just two goals per game while playing almost 2,000 minutes this season. He ranks in the top 10 nationally in save percentage at .935 and has four shutouts, trailing the national lead by only two.
During a three-game quarterfinal series against Ferris State last weekend Hjelle allowed seven goals against 99 shots, helping Ohio State (16-16-7) punch its ticket to the semifinals by rallying to win the last two games.
As can happen sometimes with a goaltender, Hjelle has put the Buckeyes on his back and into position for a championship.
“It allows your team to play on your toes,” Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki said. “You have so much more confidence when you know there’s a goalie back there that’s gonna make a save when there’s a breakdown. And let’s face it, hockey is a game of mistakes. You just have to try to find a way to eliminate the mistakes or try to have a goaltender that can cover up for a lot of mistakes that are made. Brady allows for that to happen.”
Solving Hjelle will hold the key to Notre Dame advancing one more step, setting up a matchup with either Michigan or Miami on Sunday in the last title game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit before the CCHA disbands.
Capturing the final Mason Cup before moving on to the NCAA tournament would be a fitting end for Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, a CCHA lifer.
“It’s kinda where my roots started,” Jackson said. “Having a chance to win it, my first opportunity as a head coach (at Lake Superior State) we won it. So, maybe, the last one. It’s not my last opportunity as a coach but it is at Joe Louis. It would be sweet. It would be nice.”
Voran battles injury
Winger Mike Voran remains “day-to-day” after leaving the series against Bowling Green last weekend with an ankle injury, Jackson said. Voran skated for the first time Wednesday but didn’t take contact.