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Hockey: Irish look to run streak to 21 vs. Wolverines

Sam Werner | Friday, January 30, 2009

When these two teams last saw each other, the Irish were piled on the center of the Pepsi Center ice after Calle Ridderwall’s overtime goal gave Notre Dame a national semifinal win over Michigan and sent the No. 1 overall seed Wolverines home for a long summer.

Now the roles are reversed. Notre Dame is the near-unanimous No. 1 team in the country, and looking all but invincible riding a 20-game unbeaten streak that dates back to an Oct. 25 loss to Miami (OH). No. 8 Michigan, on the other hand, started the season a bit slowly, going 11-7-0 in their first 18 games. Since then, though, the Maize and Blue have reeled of eight of their last nine, including a sweep over the CCHA second-place RedHawks.

“Their team is good,” Irish sophomore defenseman Ian Cole said. “They might not be having the best year, but they have the players to be a dominant team.”

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson also said that the Michigan team coming to the Joyce Center on Friday is similar to the one the Irish lost to twice during the regular season last year, despite losing some key players.

“They just seem to reload,” he said. “They don’t appear to be a whole lot different to me.”

The Wolverines lost three of their top four scorers from last year’s Frozen Four squad, with seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik graduating and freshman Max Pacioretty leaving early for the NHL.

Also since the teams’ last meeting, Michigan netminder Billy Sauer has all but officially lost his starting job to sophomore Bryan Hogan. In last year’s national semifinal, Sauer was pulled after giving up three first-period goals to the Irish, and replaced with Hogan, then a relatively untested freshman. This season, Hogan has played in 18 games to Sauer’s 9, and has a 1.91 GAA to Sauer’s 2.33, third and fourth in the CCHA, respectively. Jackson said he expects to see Hogan in net both nights this weekend.

The Irish coach also said that the key to both games would be to withstand Michigan’s trademark early attack. So far this season, the Wolverines have outscored opponents 16-5 in the first period of games.

“In the first period, they try to blow things out,” Jackson said. “They blitz you, and that’s the nature of their game. They try to intimidate you with their speed. When they come at you with their pressure, you just have to make sure that doesn’t break you.”

That pressure could be especially effective Saturday night, when the teams play at Michigan’s Yost Arena, dubbed by Jackson as “one of the greatest buildings in college hockey as far as atmosphere goes.”

The trip to Yost will be especially meaningful for Cole, an Ann Arbor native.

“It’ll be a great place to play and I’m excited to get back,” he said. “Growing up watching them, and now I get to play against them, it’s just awesome.”

Jackson also said, though, that he didn’t want to get his team to get ahead of themselves.

“I’m not going to blow it out of proportion,” he said. “It’s still January. This is a big weekend, but the two points on Friday night are no different than the two points we got last weekend against Lake Superior. I don’t look at last weekend’s games any different from this weekend’s games, except for the fact that it’s Michigan and you have that rivalry factor.”

Senior Erik Condra and junior Ryan Thang have been doing their part to add to the intensity of the rivalry, as the two have been wearing temporary Michigan face tattoos during practice this week. Condra said the team has also been playing Michigan’s fight song in the weight room this week.

“Me and Erik Condra did [the tattoos] after workouts today,” Thang said. “We surprised everybody with them on our face to get everybody fired up a little bit and it worked.”