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Hockey: Icers bear down for grueling final stretch

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

With just six games left in the regular season, Notre Dame is setting its sights on home ice advantage in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Despite being stuck in a three-way tie for ninth place in the 12-team league with a conference record of 7-12-3, the Irish’s 17 points are only five behind eighth-place Ohio State in the race for home ice. The top four teams will earn a bye through the first round of the playoffs, while the next four will host the bottom four on the first weekend in March to decide who moves on.

Before that, however, Notre Dame has two-game sets against Ferris State, Bowling Green and Alaska-Fairbanks. Assistant coach Paul Pooley said the Irish are playing as if the tournament has already begun.

“The biggest thing for us is to make sure we’re playing our best every weekend, because this is playoff hockey,” he said.

Making matters more difficult are the two losses the Irish sustained last weekend against No. 14 Michigan State 3-2 Friday in South Bend and 2-1 Saturday in East Lansing.

“We were looking to pick up points against Michigan State,” Pooley said. “We really thought we could get a win there. We didn’t have a great game Friday, but I thought we played well enough Saturday to win.”

Although the competition lightens a little bit in the coming weeks, Pooley said every game will be important.

“Ferris [State], Bowling Green and Fairbanks are extremely tough teams,” he said. “Getting points every weekend is important.”

The Bulldogs, who Notre Dame will play in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday, come into the weekend 9-8-5 in the conference, good for 23 points and fifth place. Ferris State will be playing with motivation, as they sit just one point behind Lake Superior for the fourth and final first-round bye.

Next, the Irish will travel to Ohio for two games against Bowling Green. Notre Dame hosted the Falcons Nov. 10 and 11 and swept them 9-4 and 4-2. Like the Irish, Bowling Green boasts 17 points in conference play and is tied for ninth.

The third team tied for ninth is Alaska-Fairbanks, Notre Dame’s opponent on the last weekend of the season. Both games will be played in the Joyce Center, a major advantage for the Irish considering the Nanooks will have to travel over 4,000 miles.

In the CCHA, two points are awarded for a win and one for a tie.

The tilt with Ferris State at the Joyce Center will face off Friday at 7:35 p.m. The return trip to Big Rapids, Mich., will begin at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.