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Hockey: Conference win crucial to help build confidence

Dan Murphy | Friday, October 31, 2008

No. 13 Notre Dame took a 10-hour bus ride to Marquette, Mich., Thursday to get ready for its weekend series against Northern Michigan.

“It’s always challenging to go on the road especially on a long trip like this. We’re here a day ahead of time so hopefully we’ll be refreshed for tomorrow,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

The Irish will take on their CCHA counterparts tonight and again tomorrow night in search of their first conference win on the season.

The team opened its conference schedule last week with two losses to No. 6 Miami at the Joyce Center. The RedHawks picked up a 2-0 shutout last Friday before holding off a late surge on Saturday for a 3-2 win.

“We need to get a win under our belt in the conference and it’s important that we gain some confidence and get offensively back on track,” Jackson said.

The Irish (2-3) have had a slow start to the season against top competition. Their other loss came against then-No. 6 Denver in the season opener in Colorado.

Jackson said before the season that he expected his young, talented team to fill up the nets this season. They do have 14 goals through five games but 10 of them came against an overmatched Sacred Heart team, including seven in one game.

“We haven’t scored as much as we would like to and we start to cheat and end up getting caught defensively,” Jackson said.

The Irish defense is also a very young unit with no players with more than two years of experience at the start of the season. Sophomore Ian Cole has played well at the point so far the Irish – last week he was named the CCHA Defensive Player of the week.

“He’s been a factor in a couple of games so far, he has to be careful not to get complacent at time,” Jackson said. “But when he’s playing with intensity he’s one of the best players on the team.”

Cole is a big physical player who has two goals and three assists so far this season.

Northern Michigan is also a big, strong team that has started its conference schedule 1-3. The Wildcats won their opener against Michigan before losing in a shootout on day two and then being swept by the Spartans last weekend.

“They play a pro style game and they are aggressive, not quite as aggressive at home because they play on an Olympic sheet,” Jackson said.

The Olympic-sized rink has more space behind the net and outside of the faceoff dots, giving teams more room to operate.

“You just have to be a little bit smarter in certain areas of the ice. You just can’t get caught outside the dots too much,” Jackson said.

The coach said his team needed to be smart and try to keep form spending too much time on the open perimeter on defense or offense.