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ND at a crossroads in young season

Justin Schuver | Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The Irish have been used to having roller-coaster seasons under coach Dave Poulin. This year, it’s been more like a free fall.

Since tying then-No. 4 Minnesota Duluth and defeating then-No. 1 Boston College early in the season, Notre Dame has since been the complete opposite of its team last year.

In February, the Irish clobbered Michigan in a sweep at the Joyce Center by scores of 4-1 and 5-2. This weekend, against essentially the same Michigan team, Notre Dame looked overmatched while falling by scores of 6-1 and an incredible 8-0 loss at the Joyce Center Saturday.

Irish fans, Irish coaches and probably even Irish players are left asking themselves one question.

What happened?

Last season, Notre Dame had its best season of the team’s 37-year history, advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. This year, the Irish currently sit in 10th place in the CCHA with a record of 3-8-4, and just 2-7-3 in conference.

What happened?

Last season, the Irish set a school record with a goals-against average of just 2.48 goals per game. This year so far, Notre Dame is allowing an average of 3.39 goals per game.

What happened?

The Irish knew it would be difficult to score goals after losing five key seniors from last year’s team in forwards Rob Globke and Aaron Gill and defensemen Tom Galvin, Brett Lebda and Neil Komadoski. That was expected.

What was not expected was junior forward Mike Walsh and talented freshman forward Victor Oreskovich each would have zero goals at this point in the season.

What was not expected was Notre Dame’s goaltending – which was believed to be a strength coming into the season – would struggle as much as it has recently.

What was not expected was that the team’s penalty killing – typically a strength under Poulin’s recent squads – would be so abysmal thus far this year. The Irish are tied for last in the CCHA with a killing rate of just 79.6 percent, after a clip of 87.4 percent last season.

Those are all symptoms of a problem that can only be traced back to one source – the players on this year’s team.

“We knew it would be difficult [this season],” Poulin said. “Globke and Gill were two elements [to last year’s team] but you can’t forget the offense we lost from losing those senior defensemen.

“We need everyone this season to start playing. We are successful when everyone on this team plays well. [The coaching staff and I] can’t go out and do it for them.”

The Irish take on another perennial powerhouse in Michigan State this weekend, in the last two games of the 2004 portion of Notre Dame’s schedule. If the team wants to continue its streak of reaching the CCHA Super Six, it’s going to have to pick up the pace quickly in the second half of the schedule.

Or else that free fall will just keep going.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Justin Schuver at jschuver@nd.edu