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Heat turns up with four games left for Irish

Chris Khorey | Friday, February 17, 2006

After a crucial sweep of Ferris State last weekend, the Irish will travel to Bowling Green for their last road games of the regular season Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against the Falcons.

Notre Dame (11-16-3, 9-12-3 CCHA) is tied with Alaska-Fairbanks for ninth place in the conference with 21 points. The Irish and Nanooks currently trail Northern Michigan and Ohio State by one point in the standings. Out of those four, the top two will earn home ice in the first round of the conference tournament March 3-5.

Bowling Green sits mired at No. 11 in the conference with just 17 points. The Falcons face conference leader Miami (Ohio) Feb. 24 and 25 and will be hard pressed to get points against the No. 2 Redhawks.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said while his team is aware of the complicated home ice situation, they are not focusing on how well other teams around the conference are playing.

“It seems like all the teams that are competing against each other for the eighth place spot play each other the next two weeks,” Jackson said. “We have to worry about ourselves. We can’t worry about Bowling Green or the teams that are right in front of us.

“We have to put ourselves in a position to win every night.”

Notre Dame and Bowling Green faced each other earlier this season in a two-game set in South Bend Nov. 10-11 with the Irish winning both games, 9-4 and 4-2. But Jackson said the Falcons are a much better team than they were three months ago.

“I thought they played us tough here, the only [thing] was that they didn’t have great goaltending that weekend,” Jackson said. “But that kid has improved a lot since then and he’s playing well now.”

Despite allowing the Irish 13 goals in those two games, Bowling Green goalie Jon Horrell has a 3.24 goals-against average this season.

The Falcons are also the nation’s ninth best offensive team, averaging 3.44 goals per game. They are led by two dynamic offensive players in Alex Foster, who leads the country with 36 assists this season, and Jonathon Masumoto, whose 17 goals lead Bowling Green and whose nine power play goals rank eleventh nationally.

“They have two of the best players in the entire conference,” Jackson said. “We can’t let them get rolling.”

Notre Dame is coming off its first sweep since its two wins over the Falcons in November, beating the Bulldogs 4-1 and 3-2 in the two home contests Friday and Saturday. Jackson said a large part of the team’s success was due to goaltender David Brown and the defense in front of him.”

“[Brown] played extremely well,” Jackson said. “Ferris’ coach complimented our defensive play – that we weren’t letting them get many rebounds. Even when David would allow a rebound our backcheckers were clearing the puck.”

While scoring – especially in even-strength situations – has been difficult for the Irish this year, Jackson said he has seen steady improvement that he expects to continue.

“If we get a power play goal a game and a couple of even strength goals a game, the way we’ve been playing defensively and with our goaltending, it should give us a good chance to win every game,” he said.

The all-time series between the Falcons and Irish is tied at 34-34-1.