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Hockey: Icers lace up for two against Wolverines

Sam Werner | Friday, January 18, 2008

Notre Dame will take on the top team in the country for the second time this season when it faces No. 1 Michigan in a two-game series this weekend. The Irish hope to pull another upset, having already beaten then-No. 1 Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 9.

The Irish will play both games in front of a mostly hostile crowd. Tonight’s opening game will be played at Michigan’s Yost Arena, dubbed by Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson as “without a doubt the most difficult, challenging place to play in college hockey.” The second game, technically a home contest for Notre Dame, will take place at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

“It’s a little bit more challenging knowing that we’ll be on the road for both games,” Jackson said. “But knowing that we’ll have last change and having our fans and our band there will go a long way towards helping us.”

The Irish have reason to be confident heading into this match-up, having beaten the Wolverines in all three of their meetings last season, including a 7-3 thrashing at Yost Arena and a 2-1 victory in the 2007 CCHA Championship.

“The fact that we have had success against them might give us a little more confidence heading in there,” Jackson said. “But that was then and this is now and we’re going to have to make sure we do the things that are necessary to have success.”

The Irish will need to add life to their power play that has looked weak since the beginning of winter break. Notre Dame has failed to score in its last 30 chances with the man advantage. Breaking out of their slump against Michigan won’t be an easy task for the Irish: The Wolverines have killed 89.5 percent of power plays against them this season – fourth best in the country.

“We just need to get back to basics,” junior forward Erik Condra said. “You can’t think about it too much because then you start not scoring and the streak continues.”

Jackson echoed Condra, saying that breaking out of their power-play slump would be crucial to getting points this weekend.

“We’re going to have to score a couple of goals to win,” Jackson said. “Because there’s no question that they’re going to get a lot of scoring chances.”

In addition to putting pucks in the net, the Irish will need to shut down Michigan teammates Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik. Porter and Kolarik make up the highest-scoring duo in college hockey, combining for 68 points on the season.

“Each one of our lines and defensive pairs is going to have to be accountable,” Jackson said. “That line is going to get their opportunities, we just have to make sure they don’t get too many.”

Notre Dame currently sits in third in the CCHA standings, three points behind Michigan, though the Wolverines have played two fewer games than the Irish. A good showing this weekend would improve Notre Dame’s chances of receiving a top seed in the conference tournament.

“It’s like playoff hockey,” Condra said. “They’re in the top four in our division and we’re fighting for playoff spots.”

While these will be two of Notre Dame’s toughest games of the season, Jackson is more excited about the opportunity than concerned about the opposition.

“Hopefully these games will help make us better,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, we’ll have to be at our best and try to steal some points.”