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Hockey: Icers hungry for upset against No.1 Miami

Kyle Cassily | Friday, November 9, 2007

Notre Dame went into No. 1 Boston College’s house in October of last season and slaughtered the Eagles 7-1 with a team picked to finish no higher than the middle of the conference.

The Boston College beatdown ignited the Irish, who rocketed to No. 1 in the country two-and-a-half months later and won the CCHA regular season and playoff championships later that year. And now No. 13 Notre Dame (6-3, 4-1 CCHA) is looking at a similar situation.

The Irish will play No. 1 Miami (8-0, 6-0 CCHA) tonight in the RedHawks’ new Steve Cady Arena in the first of a two-game series that will pit a talented, but young, Notre Dame squad against the top team in the nation, whose leading scorer from last season has played in only one game this year.

“We’re just now starting to get where we want to be, but I’m not sure we’re there yet,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “A year ago [against Boston College], with all the veteran players, it was pretty easy to step into the systems.”

Notre Dame lost eight players last season, and this year it has freshmen and sophomores up and down the lineup. It swept its first series last weekend at home against Lake Superior State but split in each of the three weekends prior. The power play has fluctuated from good to downright awful, and lines and defensive pairings are being mixed up every game.

Enter the RedHawks,

Miami has sole control of the CCHA and the top spot in the nation, and its closest margin of victory came in its last game when it came from behind to defeat Northern Michigan 3-2.

Nathan Davis, Miami’s leading scorer from last season, has played in only one game this season, but that hasn’t slowed down the RedHawk offense, which is first in the nation with an average of five goals a game. Jackson said he believes Miami is holding Davis back with what he thinks is a shoulder separation in order to err on the safe side.

“It isn’t really public as far as his health,” Jackson said. “So it’s really difficult to say. I would expect to see him.”

Expect to see Irish junior Jordan Pearce in net for Notre Dame tonight as Jackson said the goalie, who is second in the nation in minutes played, will get the start. Last Saturday night against Lake Superior State, freshman Brad Phillips started, but he didn’t make the trip this weekend due to the flu. Sophomore goalie Tom O’Brien could see time Saturday, Jackson said.

“You never know,” he said. “Never say never.”

This week was the first time this season that the Irish have had a full week of practice. In their first four weeks, they were loaded with mid-week games, which significantly reduced their chance to teach their systems well to the younger players.

“It improved some parts of our game – our forechecking and faceoff situations,” Jackson said about the full week. “You can never spend enough time working on special teams.”

The Irish offense, which started to gel last weekend when several lines were shaken up, must push the puck to the front of the net to get the prime scoring chances that will beat the RedHawks goalie tandem of Charlie Effinger and Jeff Zatkoff, Jackson said.

“We can’t overextend ourselves because they have a great transition game,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have be really disciplined with the puck.”

The series against the nation’s top team comes two weeks further into the season than last year’s upset of Boston College. But if it came three months from now, it wouldn’t make a difference to Jackson.

“Every weekend is important,” he said. “I don’t look at this any differently then Ferris State or Lake Superior State. It’s more a matter of us working to get better every week.”