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Hockey: Irish face Broncos in pair

Allan Joseph | Friday, October 29, 2010

The No. 11/13 Irish will tackle the challenge of refocusing after taking down No. 1 Boston College a week ago when they face a home-and-home series against CCHA opponent Western Michigan this weekend.

The Broncos (4-1-1, 0-0-0 CCHA) will visit the Joyce Center on Friday night and will host Notre Dame (4-1-0, 2-0-0) in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Saturday night. Irish senior captain Joe Lavin said he believed that his team has moved on from the high of taking down the top-ranked Eagles.

“Everything’s pretty much in the rearview already,” he said. “Obviously you’re going to try and reflect on a win like [Boston College] and take the positives and turn them into something that’s going to be consistent through every weekend.”

Western Michigan will serve as a difficult measuring stick for those consistent positives, as the Broncos are off to a hot start, including three road wins in the past two weekends.

“They’re playing very, very well,” Lavin said. “They’re a great team and we just need to go into it knowing we can beat anybody.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he saw the Broncos’ style of play as a threat that his squad will have to counter with consistency.

“They play a real up-tempo, up-pressure style, and that will put pressure on anybody,” he said. “It’s going to be important that we learn to have consistency.”

In addition, the wounds from last year’s trip to Kalamazoo are still raw, when the Irish were blown out in back-to-back games by the scores of 7-2 and 4-1. Lavin said the hostile environment of Western Michigan’s Lawson Arena will pose its own challenge.

“As much as we want to forget about last year, we have to remember that we went into a place like Lawson Arena … and we didn’t play too well,” Lavin said.

Jackson said he was interested to see how his team plays outside of the friendly confines of the Joyce Center, as Saturday’s game will be the first true road test of the regular season for the Irish.

“Playing on the road isn’t something that everybody on the team has had the opportunity to display how they’ll respond,” he said. “How we respond to that is going to be crucial.”

The Irish penalty-killing unit, a subject of much difficulty in last year’s disappointing campaign, was much improved in the win over Boston College and will continue to be of the utmost importance as the season moves forward.

“It’s just hard work,” Lavin said. “The coaches are unbelievable at preparing us. It is almost second nature for us to go out and act on penalty kills.”

The contests against Western Michigan, especially Saturday’s road date, will prove as the beginning of a trying stretch for Notre Dame’s newfound grittiness.

“We have a much better work ethic. We are physical, we are grittier,” Jackson said. “I think our conference is going to be tougher, so we are going to have some really tough games coming up in the next few weeks. Lawson’s a tough building.”

Western Michigan visits the Joyce Center Friday night and then hosts the Irish Saturday night in Kalamazoo. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7:35 p.m.