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Hockey: Team searches for wins in matches with No. 7 Spartans

Michael Blasco | Friday, January 15, 2010

In a desperate search for wins, the Irish hope they can stop looking this weekend.  

Notre Dame (9-10-5, 5-7-4-2 CCHA) will play a home-and-home against No. 7 Michigan State (15-6-3, 10-3-3-0 CCHA), hosting the Spartans Friday before heading to East Lansing Saturday.

Wracked with injuries and sitting in a three-way tie for seventh in the CCHA, the Irish will need to pick up at least a few points this weekend against a very tough Michigan State team to have any hope at making a run in the conference. While first place is out of reach, only six points separate Notre Dame and fourth-place Alaska.

Despite the pressure to win quickly, Irish coach Jeff Jackson maintains that his team is doing just fine.

“I approach every game the same way,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to change my approach because we’re not as successful as we’d like to be from game to game. We’ve got time. Every game is important, but we’ve got to get that light switch to turn on somehow. Our backs are against the wall, especially with the injuries.”

Those injuries have hit Notre Dame hardest on the blue line, with freshman Sam Calabrese and sophomore Eric Ringel dealing with lingering injuries. Junior defenseman Teddy Ruth will also be out of the lineup as he serves a game disqualification penalty incurred during a fight against Ferris State’s Travis Ouellette on Jan. 10. Ouellette checked Ruth from behind, earning a major misconduct penalty and game disqualification penalty in addition to a one-game suspension for the hit.

Jackson said he believes that a stiffer punishment was warranted.

“I think it was even more severe,” Jackson said. “Watching that hit on film, there was intent there. What I saw, to me, that was intent. Add Ruth to the list of our defensemen who’ve been hit from behind this season.”

The Irish will also be welcoming freshman wing Kyle Palmieri back to the lineup. Palmieri returns after helping the U.S. Junior National Team take home gold at the World Junior Championships. He finished third on the team in scoring, with a goal and eight assists alongside a plus-eight rating for the tournament.

Palmieri’s return is even more welcome as Notre Dame will be without the services of sophomore wing Billy Maday for at least six weeks. Maday, who leads the Irish with 19 points, is sidelined because of a separated shoulder.

“We’re going to need somebody to replace Mayday for six to eight weeks,” Jackson said. “With [Palmieri] coming back, I gave him some time off specifically to be able to come back and not be tired. I know what kind of a drain that tournament is. The intention is that he comes back in and makes a difference immediately.”

With things seeming bleak for Notre Dame, senior captain Ryan Thang recognized the importance of picking up some points this weekend.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Thang said. “In the earlier parts of the season, you’re trying to right the ship and mess with the system. We don’t have that option anymore. We either win hockey games or the season is over.”

Friday’s game will begin at 8 p.m. at Notre Dame and Saturday’s will begin at 7 p.m. in East Lansing.