Who: No. 15 Notre Dame (13-8-2) vs. New Hampshire (11-8-3)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
Anders Bjork can’t carry Notre Dame hockey toward a conference championship by himself.
Make no mistake, Bjork has been very good this season. He’s fifth in scoring nationally with 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) and leads the Irish in that category. Andrew Oglevie is next with 11 goals and 13 assists. But relying on one or two scorers isn’t a recipe for sustained success.
Notre Dame (13-8-2, 6-4-1 Hockey East) sits fifth in the league standings with 13 points through 11 games. Climbing will require scoring depth, among other things.
“I think that’s what is gonna set our team apart,” said winger Joe Wegwerth. “It’s the ability to play four lines and all four lines can chip in offensively. We don’t have to rely too much on one line. Obviously, Anders is a really special player but it’s nice if he doesn’t have to do it all.”
Wegwerth can be part of that solution. He has in spots already.
Third and fourth line forwards have been scoring more goals in recent weeks. Wegwerth is up to five. Jack Jenkins has three. Seeing goals from deeper in the lineup adds some momentum for everyone.
“You love seeing those guys score,” said Jake Evans, a top line center. “I think it adds some energy to your team too because you see those guys pay the price and don’t get noticed as much as some other guys. When they score, it’s really nice to see.”
But there needs to be more consistency for the Irish to make a last Hockey East push. They’ll depart for the Big Ten next season.
Take last weekend as an example: Bjork and Oglevie scored the goals in a 2-1 win over Merrimack on the road. High scoring defenseman Jordan Gross (six goals, 13 assists) and Oglevie scored in a 4-2 loss the next night.
Notably missing? Secondary scoring from forwards on the third or fourth lines. Cycling the puck and playing solid defense might be the first priority, but offense needs to develop as well.
“Throughout the year they’ve done everything right,” Evans said. “They just haven’t found the back of the net a lot of times. But in practice they’re giving it their all and in games they’re playing smart defensively especially. Going into the next few months, you really want to have a lot of depth. You want to have a bunch of lines going. I think this whole year they’ve been really good, they just haven’t found the back of the net.”
Relieving some of the burden from Bjork, Oglevie, Evans and even productive defensemen like Gross is a top priority for guys like Wegwerth. Coming up with a little more offense could be the difference between a top four finish in Hockey East and slipping down the standings.
“Obviously, everybody wants to score goals,” Wegwerth said. “But I think more importantly, you have to do what it takes to win. We have a job to do, kinda bring energy and chip in offensively every once in awhile. It’s starting to come around now. It’s good that we’re starting to get some secondary scoring. It kinda takes the pressure off guys like Anders.”