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Hockey: Irish drop to eighth in conference standings after losses

Michael Blasco | Monday, February 8, 2010

If the Irish were playing with their backs against the wall before, they’re going to be in full-on desperation mode from here on out.

Notre Dame (12-13-7, 8-10-6-2 CCHA) dropped two crucial games over the weekend in a road trip against bottom-dwelling conference foe Western Michigan (8-15-5, 4-14-4-1 CCHA), falling all the way to eighth in the CCHA standings. The Irish fell 7-2 Friday night before a bizarre 4-1 loss Saturday to the Broncos.

“I want to get to the bye week and try to get people healthy,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “I want to try to get as strong as we can. We need to start playing as a team again, getting ready to go into the playoffs.”

The series against Western Michigan opened a five-game road trip against the Broncos, Bowling Green and rival Michigan, all ranked lower than sixth in the CCHA. Notre Dame hoped to fortify their hold on fourth place, as the top four conference seeds receive a first-round bye in the CCHA tournament, but tumbled to eighth with the sweep. The Irish will have a bye week to lick their wounds and refocus.

Western Michigan jumped to a 3-0 lead out of the gate Friday, chasing Notre Dame freshman goaltender Mike Johnson at the end of the first period. Senior Brad Phillips fared little better, yielding four goals on 16 shots as the Broncos cruised to a 7-2 win. Junior defenseman Joe Lavin and freshman center Riley Sheahan tallied goals for the Irish.

In the Saturday night showdown, Notre Dame peppered senior Western Michigan goaltender Riley Gill with 55 shots in their 4-1 loss, with Gill notching an astounding 54 saves. The Broncos chased Johnson for a second straight evening, as the freshman goaltender yielded three goals on eight shots.

“I don’t know what it is,” Jackson said. “Mike Johnson wasn’t very good tonight. I didn’t think our defense played very well tonight, and our forwards made it more difficult for them by not doing a good job taking care of the puck.”

The Irish went 0-for-12 in power play chances on the evening, totaling an anemic 0-for-18 on the weekend. Power play struggles have been a repeated theme for Notre Dame this season.

“Between penalties and injuries, we’ve had a tough time keeping units together,” Jackson said. “When you take guys that are power play specialists out of the lineup, your continuity changes. We needed to make some adjustments, and it shows up in the fact we haven’t had that cohesiveness for our power play.”

The Irish have a bye week before heading to Bowling Green next weekend, hoping to stay alive in the CCHA.