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Hockey: Hitting the road

Sam Werner | Friday, November 5, 2010

The Irish hit the road against Bowling Green this weekend for the first of two consecutive series away from the friendly confines of the Joyce Center.

Notre Dame got its first taste of CCHA road action last weekend in a Saturday night road tilt against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Mich., which ended in a 2-2 tie. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he was pleased with how his young team responded to the hostile environment, particularly the defensemen. Four Irish freshmen played on the blue line against the Broncos.

“I thought [freshman defenseman] Jared Beers did a nice job,” Jackson said. “And we’re getting fairly consistent play right now out of [Kevin] Lind and [Shayne] Taker. I think Stephen Johns has been a huge component to our physicality back in our own end.”

Jackson added that Notre Dame would face a similar challenge in the Falcons as it saw last weekend against the Broncos.

“[Bowling Green is] going to be like Western Michigan — new coach, young, enthusiastic,” he said. “They’re going to have a great work ethic and they’ve got some good players on their team.”

Up front, Notre Dame’s most productive line has been comprised of seniors Ben Ryan and Ryan Guentzel and freshman Anders Lee. Guentzel leads the team in scoring with nine assists, though he has yet to light the lamp himself.

“He’s got great hockey instincts, he sees the ice and he makes good decisions with the puck, and he’s playing with guys right now that can benefit from that,” Jackson said of Guentzel.

Lee has exploded onto the scene for the Irish, leading the team with six goals just seven games into his college career.

“[Lee] is a pure goal-scorer,” Jackson said. “He’s the guy that you want to get the puck at the end of the play, not at the front end.”

One of the pleasant surprises for Jackson has been the play of his fourth line of freshmen David Gerths, Jeff Costello and Mike Voran. The three have combined for eight points on the year, and Gerths scored two goals in Notre Dame’s 3-2 win over Western Michigan.

“I think one of the benefits of them being together is there’s no pressure,” Jackson said of the line. “If you’re playing with a senior or junior, guys that are expected to be effective offensively or whatever, sometimes there’s a pressure to get the puck to the senior or the junior. With not having an upperclassmen on that line, there’s no pressure.”

On the defensive end, Notre Dame has been aided by strong play from sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson. On the season, Johnson has posted a 1.97 goals against average with a .934 save percentage.

“I just think he’s in much better shape right now, physically,” Jackson said of his netminder.

“Endurance-wise, I think he’s better, and he’s gotten stronger, which has allowed him to move across the crease with a lot more power.”

Even though the Falcons finished 11th in the CCHA last year, Jackson said playing on the road always presents challenges, whether the venue is Bowling Green or Michigan.

“Every building has its own feeling,” Jackson said. “Bowling Green has got a low ceiling, it’s a loud building. It’s tight corners and the fans are right on top of you … our guys generally perform better when there’s a good crowd in any arena.”

The Irish and Falcons face off Friday and Saturday night, with the puck dropping at 7:05 p.m. both nights.