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Irish hope to continue winning ways

Justin Schuver | Friday, December 5, 2003

The CCHA knows how good the Irish have been so far this season. Now, the rest of the college hockey world is taking notice as well.The No. 14 Irish take their six game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) on the line as they travel to Western Michigan this weekend for their final two CCHA games of 2003. Notre Dame will not play another conference game until Jan. 9.Notre Dame enters the series with 16 points and tied for the CCHA lead with Ohio State. This is the latest in a season that the Irish have held the top position in the conference standings.”We’ve got a very, very tight focus now,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “We’ve got two games before Christmas. After the national development team game [Nov. 14] I told the team I needed the next 22 days from them. We’ve had great intensity, great focus and great preparation.”Practice has been as good as I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.”The team’s recent play has resulted in their first national ranking since Oct. 21, 2001. The Irish are currently ranked 14th in both the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine and the U.S. College Hockey Online polls.”When you start the year, certainly your goal is to have [high rankings and a high conference standing,” Poulin said. “And when you get them, you can get afraid of how the team is going to react. It’s good to be nationally ranked because we’re playing well. We’ve played our way into the national rankings.”We’ve earned every bit of it, and that’s what’s really important.”Notre Dame (8-3-2, 7-3-2 in the CCHA) has played its way into the national rankings partly due to one of the best defenses in the country. Bolstered by the play of a senior-laden defense and terrific play from goaltenders David Brown, Morgan Cey and Rory Walsh, Notre Dame’s 1.97 goals-against-average is tops in the CCHA and ranked third nationally.Two young cogs in Notre Dame’s defense, freshmen defenseman Wes O’Neill and freshmen goaltender Brown, were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 among collegiate defensemen and goaltenders, respectively, in the recently-released Central Scouting Report for the 2004 NHL draft. Brown helped lead the Irish in a two-game sweep of Northern Michigan last weekend, stopping 44-of-47 shots as Notre Dame won 5-1 and 4-2. He was rewarded for his efforts by being named the CCHA Rookie of the Week.Brown was also named Rookie of the Week for the weeks of Oct. 15 and Nov. 2.Special teams have also played a big role in Notre Dame’s success this season, particularly on the penalty kill. The team has given up just six goals in 52 chances, including just one power-play goal on the road.”Teams build and thrive on the power play,” Poulin said. “This team we’re playing this weekend has done very well on the power play, so it’s important for us to be good with our kill.”When you kill a power play, you give yourself momentum but you also take momentum away from them. That’s why it’s so important.”Western Michigan (6-7-1-, 3-5-2) is led on offense by senior captain Dana Lattery, who has five points (three goals, two assists) in his last three games and currently has a five-game goal-scoring streak.The Broncos played three games last week, defeating Bowling Green 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 25 and splitting with Colgate over the weekend. Their most recent game was a 4-1 loss to Colgate last Saturday.Notre Dame travels to Kalamazoo to visit the Western Michigan Broncos this weekend. Face-off is set for 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday.