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Irish Hockey Insider: Red-hot icers return home after poll-topping road trip

Dan Murphy | Friday, November 10, 2006

Home, sweet home.

It has been almost a month since Notre Dame beat Minnesota State-Mankato 6-1 Oct. 12 in its only home game so far this season. The No. 9 Irish return to the Joyce Center tonight to take on Bowling Green in the start of a two-game CCHA series.

The Falcons (3-4-1) enter the contest fresh off their first CCHA victory – a 4-2 win over Lake Superior State – after dropping their first three conference games. Notre Dame will look to stay unbeaten in conference play after a win and a tie last weekend at Ohio State.

“It’s always nice to play in front of your own fans, and after being on the road for so long it will be a nice little break for us,” Irish captain T.J. Jindra said.

The team has gone 5-1-1 since the Mankato game, knocking off No. 1 Boston College in Chestnut Hill and taking home the Lightning College Hockey Classic against Air Force and Army in the interim.

The key to Notre Dame’s success on the road has been its stingy defensive play, led by senior goaltender Dave Brown. Brown was recently named the CCHA Goaltender of the Week for the second time in the young season, after stopping 46 of 49 shots in the two-game series with Ohio State. Brown first received the honor Oct. 23 after holding Hockey East opponents Boston College and Providence to one goal apiece.

“He makes the saves he needs to make and then makes some great saves when we break down,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “He’s been our backbone.”

Brown credited his success to a sharpened mental focus and preparation, as well as good communication with the defense.

The Irish blue-liners are currently allowing only 1.12 goals per game, which ranks them first among all Division-I teams. The team is giving up just over 23 shots a game this year, compared to 28.9 in the 2005-06 season.

That dominance has carried over to the penalty killers, who have allowed only four goals in 44 opportunities – again a major improvement from last season.

The Bowling Green power play has struggled so far this season, converting less than 10 percent of the time.

Junior Derek Whitmore, who leads the Falcons with seven goals, has one of the team’s four man-advantage goals. His linemate, Jonathon Matsumoto, leads the team in points (10) and assists (7). Matsumoto, also a junior, led the team in scoring last year and is considered to be one of the most dangerous playmakers in the nation.

“It’s not much different than playing the guys from BC or Air Force, we face great players every week – you just have to be prepared for them,” Brown said.

Matsumoto had two goals in three losses and a tie to the Irish last season. The Irish took the games 9-4, 4-2, 7-4 and 1-1.

“Last year we ended up matching up fairly well, but that was last year,” Jackson said. “I have a lot of respect for [Bowling Green head coach] Scott Paluch, and I know they will be prepared.”

So far this season, the two teams have both faced off with Boston College, Providence and Windsor. The Irish beat all three teams with a combined score of 22-3, while Bowling Green came out on top against Windsor and Providence, but was beaten 5-1 by the Eagles Oct. 21.

“We just have to come out on Friday and get off to a quick start, then continue to do what we have been doing,” Jindra said.

Tonight’s action begins at 7:35, while Saturday’s game will start a half hour earlier at 7:05. Both games will be played at the Joyce Center.