Banner hangs in the balance
Sam Werner | Friday, February 20, 2009
The No. 2 Irish hit the road again this weekend with a chance to clinch the regular season CCHA Championship in two games with Nebraska-Omaha.
Any combination of five points between Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) will give the Irish the league title over the second-place RedHawks. Notre Dame currently holds a four-point lead with each team having four games to play, but Miami (Ohio) has the tie-breaker thanks to its two-game sweep of the Irish on Oct. 24 and 25.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson said while he’d like the league crown for seeding purposes, he didn’t want his team to get hung up on it.
“I’m not going to put a ton of emphasis on winning the conference championship because there’s a lot more to play for after the fact,” Jackson said.
First, Notre Dame will need to take care of business against the Mavericks, who currently sit in sixth place in the conference with 26 points. Recently, though, Mike Kemp’s squad has struggled, going winless since Jan. 9.
The Mavericks are led by their power-play unit, which ranks fourth in the CCHA with a 15.2 percent efficiency. Irish captain Erik Condra, though, was confident in his team’s ability to step up defensively.
“Northern [Michigan] had a great power play coming in here and our penalty kill stepped up and did the job,” he said. ‘And I think that’s what we need to do this weekend.”
Early in the season, Nebraska-Omaha had one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and notched several impressive wins, including an 8-3 non-conference thrashing of No. 7 Yale on Dec. 29.
“They’ve got good depth offensively,” Jackson said. “I’m afraid of them right now because they haven’t scored a lot of goals in the last month, and that’s hurt them, but they have the potential to break out at any time.”
Notre Dame has played the role of road warrior all season, currently sporting an 11-2-1 record away from the Joyce Center this season. Prior to a Feb. 8 loss at Ohio State, the Irish hadn’t lost on the road since a season-opening defeat to Denver.
“The big thing about playing on the road is momentum,” Jackson said. “And you control the momentum by what you do with the puck, not taking bad penalties, not giving up odd-man rushes.”
Condra echoed his coach on the importance of controlling the pace of play away from home.
“We play more of a simple game on the road,” the senior center said. “We don’t want the other teams crowding it in and getting momentum.”
Last weekend against Northern Michigan, Notre Dame took leads of 3-0 and 4-0, but allowed the Wildcats to cut the scores to 3-3 and 4-2. Though the Irish won both games, Jackson acknowledged that they struggled to put the game out of reach. Condra was confident the same would not happen this weekend.
“I think it’s all mental,” he said. “And we realized that and we talked about it. Once we get on teams we need to stay on them.”
If the Irish do stay on the Mavericks this weekend, it’s possible that fans could see a new banner hanging in the Joyce Center soon. Condra, though, said that the team wouldn’t rely on the RedHawks faltering to get their league title.
“We know we need five points to win the league,” he said. “And we’ll just take care of it ourselves.”