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Hockey: Notre Dame makes trek to Alaska for two-game set

Sam Werner | Friday, November 6, 2009

The Irish travel 3,500 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska this weekend for a two-game CCHA series against the Nanooks in the second weekend of conference play.

“It’s nice to get away from home,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson joked. “But not this far away.”

One of the biggest goals for the No. 9 Irish (4-3-1, 1-0-1 CCHA) this weekend will be to finally light the lamp during even strength play. Of the five goals the Irish scored against Ohio State last weekend, four were on the power play and one was an empty-netter.

“It’s kind of evolved now where we’ve got guys pressing,” Jackson said. “We’ve got guys where they don’t score, they tighten up on the sticks, and all of a sudden they’re trying to do too much or shooting the puck from bad angles.”

Senior captain Ryan Thang echoed Jackson, saying that the team’s even strength woes were more about mentality than anything else.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Thang said. “[We’ve] just got to stay positive.”

This weekend may not be the best set of circumstances for the Irish to break their slump, though, as Alaska (5-0-1, 2-0-0 CCHA) has only given up an average of 1.2 goals per game this season.

“It’s going to be tough,” Thang said. “Alaska’s playing great.”

Part of the Nanooks’ success defensively can be attributed to sophomore goalie Scott Greenham, who has given up only seven goals on the season with a .949 save percentage.

The situation in the Notre Dame goal is slightly murkier, however. Junior Brad Phillips, the presumed starter coming into the season, has started five games for the Irish with a 2.18 goals against average. Freshman Mike Johnson, though, has looked impressive in his two starts, with only one goal allowed and a .982 save percentage.

Jackson said that both were likely to see action this weekend.

“Odds are we’ll try and work two of the guys in,” Jackson said. “But I can’t say that for sure.”

In a big picture sense, Jackson said that he has historically been a “one goalie coach” throughout his career. He added, however, that he would give both players a chance to prove themselves.

“I need somebody to step up and say, ‘This is my job,'” Jackson said. “I haven’t seen that happen 100 percent yet. It’s probably going to be a couple more games before I get that sense that somebody is making that statement.”

Traveling to Fairbanks always adds another wrinkle to this series. The team left campus around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and didn’t arrive until about 1 a.m. Alaskan time.
“It’s tough to travel up there,” Thang said. “They’ve got that aspect.”

Another unique feature of playing in Fairbanks is the fact that the Nanooks play on a wider Olympic-size ice sheet. They are one of only two teams in the CCHA, along with Northern Michigan, to do so. Jackson said he told his team to focus on the center of the ice and play “between the [faceoff] dots.”

“It actually can be more detrimental to offense because what happens is you get lost on that extra ice,” he said.

Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. AKT (11:05 p.m. EST).

Note:

Jackson said that junior defenseman Teddy Ruth, who suffered a leg injury prior to the season, had started skating and hoped to practice next week.

“We’re hoping that he practices next week,” Jackson said. “There’s a chance he plays next weekend against Northern [Michigan]. He’ll definitely play the weekend after that.”