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Hockey: Irish look for first sweep against Northern Michigan

Douglas Farmer | Friday, November 13, 2009

After beating Northern Michigan five times last season, No. 8 Notre Dame looks to earn its first weekend sweep of the season against the Wildcats this weekend.

Notre Dame (5-4-1, 2-1-1-0 CCHA) has only won two consecutive games once this season, beating Providence 2-0 and then traveling to Boston to top Boston University four days later 3-0.

“It’s always tough when you play the same team twice in a row, to come out there and adjust the second night,” Irish senior captain Ryan Thang said. “I think mentally to our team, to get a sweep this weekend would be huge. It could almost turn this season around for us.”

Thang said the team is not pleased with most of the results thus far this season, having yet to score more than three goals in any game.

“I don’t think anybody in the locker room is happy with almost a .500 season so far…[A sweep] would give everybody confidence, in the locker room, the coaches and even the support staff,” he said. “Everyone needs that little extra boost of confidence, and six points would definitely do that.”

After an overall slow start to the season, Notre Dame has brought most of its game together, but has not yet begun scoring as the team is used to. The biggest roadblock to reeling off multiple wins this season has been a lack of even-strength goals for the Irish.

Notre Dame has scored 23 goals through 10 games, but only 10 goals have come while both teams were at full strength.

“If you look at the statistics within our league, we are in the top three or four in every statistic in the league with one exception, and that exception is glaring,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It is five-on-five scoring. Our special teams are both doing well. Our penalties are coming back down to a normal range. Our goals against is as good as there is in the league. We just aren’t being productive in five-on-five right now.”

The Irish lead the CCHA in special teams play, has the fifth fewest power play minutes, and is tied for second in scoring defense, but ranks ninth in scoring offense at 2.3 goals per game. Nonetheless, Jackson remains optimistic, drawing comparisons to one of his best squads.

“It reminds me of two years ago when we went to the Frozen Four,” he said. “That year, January or February, we had a real bear of a time scoring goals. It starts with a little thing, great goaltending or not capitalizing on the power play, and all of a sudden it turns into more than that just on a psychological perspective.”

Jackson said he is confident the Irish will find their offensive touch before too long, just as the Frozen Four team did.

“We have too much offensive ability to stay like this,” he said. “I would be extremely surprised and disappointed if things didn’t start changing from an offensive perspective.”
Thang said he hopes the team proves Jackson correct quickly, as reestablishing an intimidating presence at home would be a huge lift for the team, and he said he thinks this weekend could be the one to make it happen.

“It’ll be huge for us to establish ourselves early on, especially at home,” Thang said. “We haven’t really had that dominating presence we’ve had in the past couple years, and we haven’t put two wins together back-to-back in a weekend. We are really looking forward to doing that, hopefully this weekend, but [Northern Michigan] is a tough team.”

The Irish will look to end their offensive troubles and sweep the Wildcats (2-5-1, 1-3-0-0) Saturday at 5:05 p.m. and Sunday at 4:05 p.m.