Hockey: Icers surf to Florida for Lightning tournament
Dan Murphy | Saturday, October 28, 2006
Not a single player on the Irish roster was alive the last time Notre Dame won a mid-season tournament.
No. 11 Notre Dame travels to Tampa, Fla. this weekend in hopes of changing that at the first annual Lightning College Hockey Classic, hosted by the Irish.
On Dec. 30, 1981, the Irish captured the Great Lakes Invitational with an 8-3 win over Michigan Tech. Since then the trophy case has remained untouched.
“I knew that at some point I wanted to create an environment for our team to play in a big venue,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.
Jackson, who already has four CCHA titles and two national championships, played a big role in starting the tournament in order for his team to get accustomed to a high-pressure, post-season atmosphere.
The second-year coach also hopes to use the location as a recruiting tool for future players when the tournament is moved to Christmas next season.
“I’d rather be in Tampa for Christmas than Detroit, or Minneapolis or Madison,” Jackson said.
Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville and Army, Notre Dame’s first opponent, will join the Irish. The winners of the two Friday night contests will face off Saturday at 8:05 p.m. in order to determine the tournament champion.
The Black Knights (3-0-1) are currently in first place in the Atlantic Hockey Conference after a pair of weekend wins over Connecticut. Seven of the team’s 12 goals were scored while the Huskies were shorthanded.
“They have the best power play in the country right now, no game in college hockey is an easy one,” senior defenseman Wes O’Neill said.
O’Neill, along with the rest of the Irish penalty-killing unit will be tested this weekend. Through four games, Notre Dame has held opponents to only three power play goals on 28 attempts.
The two teams have met 15 times in the past and the Irish currently hold a slight at advantage with eight wins and seven losses.
The other Academy in the tournament, Air Force, comes into the weekend with a 2-4 record. Junior Eric Ehn is averaging two points a game (8 goals, 4 assists) to lead the Falcons in the early part of the season. The winger is on pace to crush his previous career high of 14 goals in his sophomore year.
Air Force’s first-round opponent, Alabama-Huntsville, has one win in its first six games. The Chargers came out on top of a 4-2 decision over Wayne State Oct. 20.
“We just have to go out and do what we did last weekend,” Irish captain T.J. Jindra said. “A great team goes out and plays every weekend no matter who they are up against, and that’s what were trying to be here.”
Notre Dame took a big step in the right direction last weekend with wins over No. 1 Boston College and Providence. The Irish outscored their Hockey East opponents by a total of 13-2 to bring their season total to 21 goals scored and six allowed.
The Irish will not play at home again until Nov. 10 against Bowling Green.
uJackson would earn his 200th career win with a sweep of the Lightning Classic this weekend. The second-year Irish coach is 198-72-29 in eight years behind a college bench.
He ranks 22nd in all-time wins among active collegiate coaches and has the best winning percentage (.711) among those with at least five years behind a bench.