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Hockey: Battered Irish hit the road

Michael Blasco | Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Irish have spent the last two months trying to stay afloat in the CCHA. Despite clawing their way into a tie for fourth over the weekend, the waters ahead look choppy.

Notre Dame begins a five-game road trip this weekend, the longest stretch of the season away from the Joyce Center. The Irish (12-11-7, 8-8-6-2 CCHA) are clinging to a tenuous fourth-place tie in the conference and will have to hold their ground despite a depleted roster.

A half-dozen skaters were listed on the injury report for Notre Dame’s weekend series against Nebraska-Omaha, while junior center Ben Ryan was listed as inactive for undisclosed reasons in Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Mavericks.

The Irish only dressed five defensemen in the series, with All-American junior Ian Cole, junior Teddy Ruth, freshman Sam Calabrese and sophomore Eric Ringel all listed as injured.

“I want to get to the bye week and try to get people healthy and try to get as strong as we can,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We need to start playing as a team again, getting ready to go into the playoffs. But all we’re worrying about right now is how we’re playing right now, because it matters the most.”

The Irish will get a chance to make up some ground in the CCHA with upcoming road series against conference bottom-feeders Western Michigan and Bowling Green, before taking on rival Michigan in a home-and-home matchup. Notre Dame will not return to the Joyce Center until Feb. 27, the final game of the season and the last chance for the Irish to stake out a spot near the top of the CCHA.

Notre Dame will need every point it can get, with only four points separating the fourth-place Irish and 10th-place Northern Michigan. The top four teams in the CCHA will earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament and host a second-round matchup.

“You look at the standings, there’s six teams in the mix, anywhere from third to 10th,” Jackson said. “So the teams we’re playing down the stretch we have to play well.”

Despite scrounging up 10 points in its last six games, Notre Dame has certainly left some points on the ice. Most recently, the Irish squandered a 2-1 lead Friday evening, allowing four straight Nebraska-Omaha goals en route to a 5-3 loss.

“We’ve had some games where the opponents made the games more challenging towards the end, and we didn’t respond the way we could,” Jackson said. “We want to start building some consistency.”