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Hockey: Miami’s Davis worthy adversary for Brown, Irish defense

Dan Murphy | Friday, January 26, 2007

Given the three Hobey Baker finalists, two top-10 teams and a battle for the top spot in the CCHA, this weekend’s series against No. 8 Miami will be one of the most exciting in the program’s recent history and in college hockey this season.

“We’re preparing for this weekend like we’ve prepared for every weekend up to this point,” Irish captain T.J. Jindra said. “I know it’s a big weekend based on national polls, but realistically it’s a four-point weekend just like last week.”

The difference is, four points this weekend could make or break Notre Dame’s chances of capturing the regular season CCHA title. With a 2-1 win over Ohio State Sunday afternoon, the RedHawks pulled within one point of the Irish for the conference lead.

Tonight, Miami will bring its 18-8-2 record (13-5-2 CCHA) to the Joyce Center, and its Hobey Baker candidate, left wing Nathan Davis for a two-game series with No. 3 Notre Dame to complement Notre Dame’s own Hobey finalists – goalie Dave Brown and forward Mark Van Guilder.

Miami has dominated the last 10 meetings with the Irish, going 6-2-2 since 2002. It has been three seasons since the Irish have beaten their conference foes. A much improved defense and the home ice advantage gives Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson and his squad a slight edge in two contests that will be decided in the Irish defensive zone.

Notre Dame’s defense is far and away the best in the CCHA, having given up only 34 goals in 18 games. That is 10 goals less than the CCHA’s second best defense so far this season.

Brown and the rest of the defensemen will have their hands full with the RedHawks’ top line, however. Led by the junior Davis (16 goals, 25 assists), the trio has combined for 39 goals this year.

Junior Ryan Jones and sophomore Matt Kaufman join Davis on the same line – all three of whom are quick and big. They range in height from 6-foot-2 for Jones, to 6-foot-4 for Kaufman and Davis, the lightest of the three, stands at 6-foot-2 and tips the scales at 192 pounds. Jackson will most likely use bruisers like Christian Minella and Jason Paige to try to combat their size.

“You always know who those main guys are, and that’s a key to shut those guys or those lines down,” Jindra said.

Davis has been keyed on all year after being named to the All-CCHA team at the end of his sophomore season. The left-winger responded well to the pressure and is currently ranked as the nation’s most outstanding player on InsideCollegeHockey.com.

He has also contributed to the outstanding Miami specials teams that is ranked fifth in the country overall. The RedHawks power play converts 21.4 percent of its chances, while the penalty kill wipes out 90.1 percent of man-disadvantage situations, relying on heavy, continuous pressure to defuse the opposing offense.

Specials teams could play a key role in this weekend’s match ups and has been a focus for the Irish in practice throughout the week.

“We know they have a lot of talented players, and their special teams are sharp,” Jindra said. “We might have to be a little bit sharper than previous weekends because of who we are playing.”

Notre Dame will look to its young guns to provide offense once again this weekend after being slowed down in a split with Western Michigan last weekend. In front of a rowdy Kalamazoo crowd, the Broncos were able to neutralize the explosive threesome of sophomore Erik Condra and freshmen Ryan Thang and Kevin Deeth for a 4-3 win.

Jackson mixed things up a bit Saturday night and Thang and Condra were finally able to hook up for an insurance goal as the Irish took the second game with a 3-0 shutout.

Both games have been sold out to the public, but student seats are still available on a first come, first serve basis. The puck drops Friday night at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.