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Hockey: No days off

Kyle Cassily | Friday, February 8, 2008

College hockey doesn’t get better than this weekend.

Too bad it’s happening over in Ohio.

While No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Michigan claw it out in the RedHawks’ gorgeous new rink in Oxford, Notre Dame and Ferris State will play a two-game set in the Joyce Center. The fact that the nation’s top two teams are meeting in a two-game series in February speaks to the power the CCHA has in college hockey this season – and the difficult schedule the No. 8 Irish have had this season.

Michigan State, last year’s national champions, are also ranked sixth nationally.

The Irish (20-9-1, 13-6-1 CCHA) will face the Bulldogs (10-12-4, 7-10-3 CCHA) at the start of the final month-long stretch of the regular season, during which Notre Dame will try to improve its fourth-place league standing and its NCAA Tournament seeding (now at around a No. 3).

“We just got to play our own game,” Irish center Christian Hanson said. “It’s coming down to the stretch, and the focus is more on us to do what we got to do to win then worry about the other teams.”

Notre Dame hasn’t played a regular season game in two weeks because the team hosted an exhibition with the U.S. National Under-18 team last weekend that it won in over time 2-1. The exhibition game came a weekend after the Irish found their groove again in a sweep of Bowling Green. They had struggled mightily in the eight games after Christmas break.

“We need to carry on from Bowling Green. … It was good to see our team be a little bit sharper around the net offensively, especially on the power play,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We had a good transition game against Bowling Green and those are the things we’re going to have to deal with against a team like Ferris State.”

The Bulldogs play a suffocating defense that clogs the slot for the opposition, a system that Michigan State employs to a large amount of success.

“It’s a matter of our patience and execution of getting through the neutral zone,” Jackson said. “We have to show patience and be smart when we do get an opportunity in and around the net. Those are the things that we work on all the time.”

Junior goalie Jordan Pearce will start in net for the Irish on Friday. Pearce didn’t play last weekend as freshman Brad Phillips got the start and sophomore Tom O’Brien played for a period against the Under-18s.

Spotlight on Hanson

Hanson, the junior center from the Pittsburgh area with a propensity for shootouts, has become something of a media star for the Irish.

Hanson was interviewed and filmed by ESPN on Monday and Tuesday for a 7 1/2 minute Sportscenter feature that will air March 2. Hanson’s mug is also gracing the March 2008 cover of Irish Eyes magazine, the first time the hockey team has ever been on the magazine’s cover.

ESPN came calling for Notre Dame’s leader in penalty minutes because his father, Dave Hanson, was one of the Hanson Brothers in the famed hockey movie “Slapshot.” That, combined with Hanson’s development into full-time impact player, sparked the idea that came after ESPN’s “The Schwab” saw a story about Hanson in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

Hanson also posed for Irish Eyes in the Buddy Holly glasses his father sported in “Slapshot.” The younger Hanson wasn’t able to take the picture while smashing Ogie Ogilthorpe into the boards, however.

“Christian is starting to come into his own as a player, so it’s good for him to get a bit of attention,” said Jackson, who also said he likes the bonus attention the program is getting through it.