When nine goals are scored in a game, it might be hard to argue that a goaltender was the most valuable player of the game.
When one of those goaltenders is Cale Morris, however, the argument becomes much easier.
The reigning Mike Richter Award winner may not have had his best game in Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Penn State on Friday, but he was at his best when his team needed him most. In the back-and-forth affair, his team needed him quite often.
The Nittany Lions brought their typical high-octane offense to the game, pumping 48 shots on Morris, including 20 in the third period alone. The Fighting Irish managed 24 shots through the full 60 minutes, including just two in the opening frame.
As the Nittany Lions have seen now six times in six winless games against the Fighting Irish the past two seasons, Morris was the difference maker.
“There’s been a pretty common theme and his name is Cale Morris,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of the winless streak.
The Nittany Lions had numerous chances to head into the first intermission with the lead. But for every quality opportunity the Nittany Lions had, Morris and his lightening quick glove were there to thwart them.
“I heard a lot of the things about him and many were true,” freshman defenseman Paul DeNaples said. “I mean he played very, very well for them.”
While goaltending was once again the savior of the Fighting Irish, it was once again the downfall of the Nittany Lions. Senior Chris Funkey was pulled from the contest early in the second period after allowing three goals on six shots. While Oskar Autio played well in relief in his first collegiate game, the Nittany Lions couldn’t recover from the rough start.
Gadowsky explained his decision to pull Funkey as the team simply needing immediate results, adding that when a Notre Dame shot has a 50/50 chance of going in, that won’t cut it. The decision to replace Funkey with Autio instead of Peyton Jones was more of a long-term factor.
With Jones due to start Saturday’s contest, Gadowsky wanted him completely focused on that task, rather than entering a difficult situation and having that carry over to the next game. The decision proved to be smart, as Autio stopped 16 of 18 shots he faced and gave the Nittany Lions every chance to complete the comeback.
“I think Oskar did a great job in a very tough situation,” Gadowsky said. “In the end, we needed one more.”
How It Happened
It didn’t take long for the Nittany Lions to find the back of the net. As the opening minute ticked away, Aarne Talvitie charged down the left wing on a 2-on-1 break. The Finnish forward fired a laser into the top corner of the net, beating Cale Morris over the blocker on the Nittany Lions first shot of the game.
The Fighting Irish responded on their first shot of the night just three minutes later. After hard work to win back the puck by Cam Morrison, he found Matt Hellickson in the slot. Chris Funkey got a piece of Hellickson’s one timer, but the puck rolled through his legs and into the net.
A pair of goals early in the second period spelled a premature ending to Funkey’s evening. The Fighting Irish pulled ahead as Morrison redirected a pass in the slot that snuck between Funkey’s arm and body.
Not even 90 seconds later, Michael Graham sent a pass between his legs to Mike O’Leary, who was stationed at the right post. O’Leary’s shot trickled past Funkey as he was unable to seal the post.
Yielding three goals on six shots, Funkey was yanked following the goal. Oskar Autio made his debut in relief. The Finnish freshman won the crowd over quickly with a pair of dazzling glove saves.
The team responded well to the move, upping the pressure on the Fighting Irish and pulling back within a goal as Cole Hults redirected a point shot by Paul DeNaples past Morris.
The magic didn’t last forever, however, as the Fighting Irish re-established their two-goal lead with a power play tally. After the Nittany Lions were caught with too many men on the ice, Andrew Peeke blasted a shot over the glove of Autio.
The Nittany Lions once again pulled to within a goal, only for the Fighiting Irish to answer quickly. Denis Smirnov made it a one-goal contest as he danced through the Fighting Irish defense and lifted a backhand shot over the glove of Morris.
Just a minute and a half later, Matt Steeves banked a shot off Autio’s skate as the Nittany Lions’ keeper tried to squeeze against the post to give the Fighting Irish a two-goal lead.
With just over five minutes remaining, the Nittany Lions once again made it a one-goal game. Nate Sucese finished off a nifty give-and-go with Ludvig Larsson, lifting a shot over the pad of Morris.
The comeback halted there, however, as the Nittany Lions couldn’t take advantage of an extra attacker as the clock wound down.