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Hockey: Team faces Spartans in Fort Wayne

Matt Gamber | Thursday, November 19, 2009

No. 14 Notre Dame hopes a unique weekend schedule that begins with a game tonight at No. 6 Michigan State will cure some of the woes the Irish offense has suffered in recent weeks.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said scheduling concerns related to football and basketball games at both schools led to the arrangement of the weekend series, which concludes with a second game Sunday in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“We’re hoping we can get a lot of people out in Fort Wayne and expose the game to our state in a real strong Notre Dame area,” Jackson said. “We don’t like taking too many games off campus, but if we have the opportunity to go to Fort Wayne and run a clinic for the kids and play in front of the Notre Dame fans there, it should be a great situation.”

But first things first — the Irish (5-5-2, 2-2-2-1 CCHA) must deal with the red-hot Spartans (9-2-1, 6-1-1-0) on their home ice Thursday. Michigan State swept Michigan, the preseason favorite to win the CCHA, in a home-and-home series last weekend.

“They’re playing with a lot of jam,” Jackson said. “Obviously after the kind of year they had last year, they’re certainly out to prove something. So far they have.”

The Spartans’ nine wins are the most in the country, and they hold a two-point advantage over Miami in the conference standings.

“It’s a young team playing with a lot of energy,” Jackson said. “They’re doing much better than people anticipated, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that with youth comes enthusiasm.”

Notre Dame has struggled to score goals all season, and particularly at even strength. Last weekend’s home series against Northern Michigan was no different. The Irish lost 3-2 Friday night before stealing a much-needed point with a shootout win after Saturday’s game ended in a 2-2 tie.

Sophomore wing Billy Maday scored both Irish goals in Saturday’s game, and he also put home one of the two shootout tallies. Jackson said he hopes that will jumpstart Notre Dame’s leading scorer.

“Maybe that’s going to help him play with more confidence,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping that happens to a few other guys, and the sooner, the better.”

The offense isn’t the only area with question marks for Notre Dame, as Jackson still has not settled the goaltender competition between freshman Mike Johnson and junior Brad Phillips, both of whom started once last weekend. Jackson said he’d wait until the team’s Thursday morning skate to finalize his plans in net for the weekend.

“We’ll continue to play two guys on and off here, at least for the time being,” Jackson said. “The goaltending issue is still up for debate, and I’m not opposed to going with two for the short-term, and potentially the long-term. It’s just going to depend if one of them steps up and separates himself.”

Tonight’s game in East Lansing, Mich., begins at 7:05 p.m., while Sunday’s contest will start at 4:05 p.m. at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.