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Hockey: Team needs win in league game

Kyle Cassily | Friday, January 20, 2006

It will take a little hard work and a few lucky breaks, but the as-of-late lowly Irish hockey team could become the cream of the CCHA crop in the matter of weeks.

The CCHA has become a logjam in recent weeks. Only four points separate the 10th-place Irish from 5th-place Michigan, and it is a relatively small six point jump to where Northern Michigan inhabits second place.

The Irish (5-8-3, 7-12-3 overall) open a two-game away series against the Northern Michigan Wildcats (9-8-1, 13-10-1 overall) this weekend and look to improve upon a 4-3-2 streak that started with a 3-0 win over Western Michigan on Dec. 3.

“I think it’s been huge in the last few weeks,” Irish junior forward Josh Sciba said of the closely divided CCHA pack. “There’s such a small amount of points that separate the bottom for the top. We need to go into each weekend and try to execute our systems. It’s very important and [Irish head] coach [Jeff] Jackson has been stressing that every weekend.”

Northern Michigan will be a more-than-able opponent for the resurgent Irish, as the Wildcats took the second CCHA spot after a two-game sweep of Ferris State last weekend.

The Wildcats have a subpar goal differential however, scoring 50 goals while allowing 50 in their own net. The plus/minus rating of zero makes Northern Michigan the only team in the top seven of the CCHA to not break out of the red and ink a positive standing.

When it comes to common opponents between the two squads, it isn’t hard to find a significant comparison, as both teams squared off against the Miami Red Hawks on consecutive weekends in early January.

Northern Michigan came away with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Miami, but was decimated 6-3 in the encore. The Irish secured a 2-2 tie last Friday night against the Red Hawks, but dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker the next night.

“Last weekend against Miami was proof that we can be a lot better,” Sciba said. “All we can do is build on that and if we can keep doing that we can get the wins.”

The Irish will have to watch the lethal combination of Dirk Southern and Andrew Contois on the Wildcat attack. Contois was named CCHA offensive player of the week for the week of Jan. 16 and is second for Northern Michigan in scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists. Southern is ninth in the CCHA in scoring with seven goals and 17 assists.

The Wildcats are solid on the blue line as well, with Zach Tarkir collecting CCHA defensive player of the week honors for last week. Tarkir had two assists in the Wildcats’ series with Ferris State and was a key to the penalty kill unit that went a perfect 11-for-11 in the two games.

But that doesn’t scare the composed and confident Irish squad that will embark upon the meat of its 2005-06 schedule starting tonight.

“We just try to worry about ourselves and go out everyday and work hard,” Sciba said. “It’s a new year and the team this year, for the ’06 Irish, is going to be a lot different. We’re focusing on our work ethic and on outworking our opponents.”