Hockey: Upset-happy Broncos present tough challenge
Matt Gamber | Tuesday, November 25, 2008
If the Irish want to hang on to the No. 2 national ranking they earned in this week’s polls, they’ll have to take care of business this weekend against a Western Michigan squad looking to upset a top-10 team on the road for the second straight week.
The Broncos (2-7-3, 1-4-3-1 CCHA) got their first conference win of the year Friday by beating No. 8 Michigan 2-1 at the Wolverines’ Yost Arena, considered one of the toughest places to play in college hockey.
“Any team that can go into Yost and beat Michigan has to be doing something right,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We have to be conscious of that and go into the game understanding they’re a good enough team to beat anybody.”
Notre Dame (9-3-1, 5-2-1-1 CCHA) has seen its stock rise 10 spots in the polls over the last three weeks on the heels of an eight-game unbeaten streak. The Irish have scored at least three goals in each of those games and have tallied four or more in six of those contests – including at least five goals in each of their last three games.
Last weekend, Notre Dame demolished a Bowling Green team that entered the home-and-home series with a 4-3-1 conference record. The Irish beat the Falcons 5-1 at home on Friday night before posting a 9-1 blowout win in Bowling Green, Ohio on Saturday.
“All four of our lines are helping us score, and our power play has been more consistent over the past few weeks than it’s been over the last year,” said Jackson, whose team is now averaging four goals per game. “Those two things combined have given us the opportunity to be an effective offensive team … But against a good defensive team, we’re going to be challenged and we have to bear down and not take anything for granted.”
Jackson said the defensive-minded Broncos will look to force turnovers by playing their aggressive style. The stats suggest that the style wears on opponents, as the Broncos have scored 12 third-period goals this season, compared to six in each of the first two periods.
“They’re an up-tempo team and they pressure the puck very well,” Jackson said. “They come after you. They don’t sit back and play a trap.”
The series might be a trap in another way – with Thanksgiving break beginning Wednesday, Jackson said playing at home might actually be a disadvantage this weekend.
“It’s easier to play on the road over Thanksgiving break for a number of reasons,” Jackson said, citing dietary, family and scheduling distractions. “It gets us out of our normal routine … We’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner for the guys – it’s a family holiday, so we want to make sure they have the opportunity to experience that, but not to excess.”
uBrett Blatchford and Christian Hanson were named the conference’s defensive and offensive players of the week, respectively, the CCHA announced Monday.
Blatchford, a junior defenseman, took defensive honors for the second consecutive week. He recorded four assists in the two games against Bowling Green, posting a plus-three mark for the weekend.
Hanson notched two goals and an assist in each game for a six-point weekend. The senior center had never posted a three-point game for the Irish before Friday.