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Hockey: Icers scrimmage Under-18 squad

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 1, 2008

After battling ranked conference opponents for three consecutive weekends, tonight’s 7:35 exhibition matchup with the U.S. National Under-18 Team will allow the No. 8 Irish to recharge their batteries and rehash some old memories.

Five current Notre Dame (20-9-1, 13-6-1 CCHA) players – junior goaltender Jordan Pearce, sophomore defenseman Kyle Lawson, freshmen defensemen Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth, and freshman goalie Brad Phillips – are alumni of the National Team Development Program, and Lawson understands the draw of competing against top-notch NCAA competition even before suiting up for a college squad.

“It’s a huge day, especially when you’re coming to a place like Notre Dame with all its tradition,” he said. “It’ll be a special night for them, especially for the recruits committed here. I remember coming in a couple years ago and it be such a big night – seeing future teammates, the place you’re going to spend your next four years – and anytime you play a college team, especially a college team…it’s what those guys play for.”

A pair of future Irish icers – forward Patrick Gaul (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and defenseman Sean Lorenz (Littleton, Colo.) – are both signees who will enroll next fall. They will also skate for the first time in the Joyce Center and should receive a warm welcome from their future teammates – kind of.

“Maybe in shaking their hands after the game, but it’s all business out here on the ice,” Lawson said with a laugh. “We won’t be too friendly, but after the game, I’m sure we’ll all share a couple words with them.”

While the game won’t count toward the CCHA or even the overall record, the Irish hope to repay Team USA for the 7-2 thrashing it handed Notre Dame in the last meeting on Nov. 19, 2004. Though current Irish coach Jeff Jackson wasn’t around for that debacle, he and his team certainly want to avoid a similar fate tonight.

“When you’re not playing conference opponents, a little bit of the pressure’s off and it’s a bit more of a free-spirited state of mind [in practice],” said Jackson, who gave his team Tuesday off to avoid falling into the lull of “the dog days of February”. “That certainly doesn’t mean we can come in with that sort of an attitude, because the kids we’re playing are good hockey players.

“They’re extremely quick, they’re skilled, and they’re well-coached, so we’ll be challenged in those areas that we’re trying to work on.”

The main concern of late has been the power play, and even last weekend’s four-goal outburst with the man-advantage against Bowling Green hasn’t solved the special teams issues completely. The Irish also hope to improve their transition play in preparation for the remainder of their CCHA slate, which resumes with next weekend’s series against Ferris State.

“You take it as kind of an off-week, but it’s not necessarily an off-week where we slack off,” Pearce said. “We took a little bit of extra time to get some rest, but we also spent a lot of time on more specific areas of our game – shooting, scoring techniques – whereas when you’re preparing for a league game, we have to spend a little more time on preparing for that team. This week we were able to work more on individual skills.”

Another benefit of tonight’s exhibition skate, Jackson said, will be the opportunity to get certain players additional playing time. Phillips, for example, will “get back on the horse” by getting tonight’s start in net, his first since allowing four goals against No. 1 Michigan two weeks ago.

“It’s meant to help [Team USA] get better as young players, and that program has been extremely good to Notre Dame,” Jackson said. “On the other side of the coin, it gives us an opportunity to maybe play some guys that don’t play as much, and it also gives us an opportunity to keep in game shape. We’ve got to turn around in a week and play Ferris State, and that’ll be a very tough series – so there definitely are benefits for us.”

So despite the somewhat laid-back approach that defined this week in practice, there’s no confusion among the Irish players: tonight is still a game night.

“It’s been our emphasis all week that we’re trying not to take it as a night off,” Lawson said. ” It’s a chance for us to get better, and that’s the way we’re going to approach it. They have 20 of the best kids in the country, and they’re going to challenge us.”