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Hockey: Denver pays a visit to the JACC

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, October 18, 2007

There were no red practice jerseys at No. 11 Notre Dame’s practice Wednesday to signify injured players who couldn’t be touched, but banged-up icers have prevented the team from forming cohesive lines and defensive pairings already this season.

The Irish (1-1) play host to No. 5 Denver (2-0) tonight at the Joyce Center in the first matchup of a two-game series, less than a week after Notre Dame surrendered three third-period goals in a 4-1 loss to No. 13 Wisconsin. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the vibe and chemistry of the lines in that game were out of whack, and the team will be hard-pressed to fix them until the return of injured sophomore center Dan Kissel.

“Where we put Danny Kissel is going to have a lot to do with everything up there, because before we started the season we were anticipating him to be a top two-line guy potentially,” he said. “I don’t think anything, until I find out where he fits in the puzzle, will be finalized.”

One line, however, impressed Jackson – that of Irish captain Mark Van Guilder, freshman Ben Ryan and junior Garrett Regan. They combined for four out of Notre Dame’s five goals in the two-game Lefty McFadden Invitational last weekend (three for Van Guilder, one for Regan) and had three assists, all by Ryan. Most of the scoring came in a 4-0 shutout of Mercyhurst Saturday.

Injured players aren’t Notre Dame’s only obstacle to tight-knit forward lines and defensive pairings. Jackson said he didn’t prepare the team enough for the level of pressure that the Badgers put the Irish under last weekend. He said he has tried to get the players used to the up-tempo game he expects out of them, and that the Pioneers will bring to the series this weekend.

“What do we have under our belt? Six practices? So it’s really hard when you throw [the team] right into the mix without having a lot of preparation time,” he said.

Irish goalie Jordan Pearce will start in net for the Irish tonight, Jackson said, after the junior made 46 saves on 50 shots for a 2.00 goals-against average.

“He was unbelievable [against Wisconsin],” Van Guilder said. “He was amazing. He was stopping 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s, – he stopped a 2-on-0. He got rewarded with a shutout on Saturday, which he really deserved.”

The netminder for the series’ second game, however, will depend upon the result of the first game. If the Irish win, either sophomore Tom O’Brien or freshman Brad Phillips may be seen between the pipes.

“I do need to see one of these other guys play soon,” Jackson said. “And a lot of it depends on how our team is playing around them.”

Denver swept No. 17 Maine at home last weekend by scores of 2-0 and 3-1, leapfrogging eight spots in the early national rankings to the fifth spot. In the second weekend of last year’s season, the Irish faced another high-ranked team, No. 1 Boston College, and came away with a 7-1 win before going on to league regular season and playoff titles.

“It’s big to play those teams and it’s big to beat those teams,” Van Guilder said of playing top-ranked teams in the early season. “That sprung our season last year when we beat Boston College.”

The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. for the game tonight and Friday at the Joyce Center.