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Hockey: ND shores up power play

Sam Werner | Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last week’s five power-play goal explosion may have come as a surprise to some Irish fans, but for Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, it was just a culmination of something the team had been working on all week in practice.

“We work on power-play skills and then we work on tactics,” Jackson said. “We want our players to be creative, but we want to give them some guidelines to break down the box.”

Jackson said he also shifted his special teams units around after going 0-16 with the man advantage in two losses to Miami the previous weekend. These changes included moving Kyle Lawson to the front of the net, and forming a unit that had three right-handed shooters playing with powerful point man Ian Cole.

“Were trying to create more emotion on our power play,” Jackson said. “We just try to give them a basic outline to follow, then they have to make plays once they break the box down. It’s up to them to use their hockey instincts and their skills to make plays to finish it off.”

These changes resulted in a weekend where five of the seven total Irish goals came with the man advantage. Ryan Thang, Dan Kissel, Christian Hanson, Billy Maday and Lawson tallied power-play goals for Notre Dame in two wins over the Wildcats.

While Jackson said the midweek changes contributed to this success, other factors were in play as well.

“Northern plays a more passive system on penalty kill, which could’ve had something to do with it too,” he said. “Being on the Olympic ice sheet might have been a factor, too, in a positive way.”

Defenseman Brett Blatchford also had a big weekend against Northern, notching four assists, three with the man-advantage. Jackson said after the series that he hoped Blatchford would develop into a better point man on the power play, and that playing at an off-point position has actually helped him in that regard, allowing Blatchford to play primarily on his forehand instead of backhand.

“He’s walking across instead of pulling it across,” Jackson said. “Also, it allows him to potentially see the ice better.”

This power play success is a far cry from the struggles that plagued Notre Dame in the middle of last season, when the Irish fell into an 0-for-39 slump at one point.

But the Irish will be tested next weekend when they take on Boston College in a rematch of last year’s national championship game. Jackson said the Eagles’ speed on the penalty kill could give the Irish some troubles.

“On the power play, it’s going to be more challenging because they’re a quick team,” he said. “They’re fast, they rotate aggressively, so they close up those passing lanes rather quickly because they’re quick and we have to make sure that we can get them out of position and shoot the puck.”

Notre Dame will also face stiff competition when the Eagles have the man advantage. The Irish will go up against a power play that has scored 13 goals in six games this season and has been called the best power play unit in the country.

“We have to make sure that we don’t give up cross-ice pass or cross-seam passes through the box,” Jackson said, “And if we can avoid doing that, we give ourselves a better chance to have success.”