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Hockey: Notre Dame to face Michigan

Allan Joseph | Friday, November 12, 2010

No. 11 Notre Dame renews its oldest hockey rivalry this weekend when it travels to Ann Arbor to take on CCHA rival No. 8/9 Michigan.

The trip will take the Irish (6-2-1/4-1-1-1 CCHA) to one of college hockey’s most inhospitable venues, Yost Arena.

“The fans are right over you, so it’s a great experience,” Irish senior alternate captain Calle Ridderwall said. “You know what you’re getting yourself into. I think it’s very motivating going into Yost.”

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson agreed with Ridderwall, and said the hostile atmosphere helps his team play to a higher level.

“It’s always a challenge playing at Yost, because it is an intimidating place,” he said. “I’ve always thought our team relished playing there.”

More importantly, however, will be the Wolverine (5-2-3, 4-1-1-0 CCHA) on-ice challenge, as Michigan is one of the deepest, most well-rounded teams the Irish will face all season.

“Obviously the crowd’s against you, but you have to be more concerned about the talent Michigan brings to the table,” Jackson said. “I think Michigan has got the best depth up front, on the back end they’re a great defensive team.”

The Wolverines play a fast-paced, up-tempo game that has given Notre Dame some problems earlier this season. The Irish got off to poor starts against similar attacking philosophies from Boston College and Boston University earlier this year.

“I know they’re very skilled and very fast. I just expect them to play very good and very fast hockey,” Ridderwall said. “We try to practice at a very fast pace, and that’s the main thing we’re doing to prepare.”

Jackson wants his team to counter speed with speed.

“We want to go at them. We don’t want to sit back,” he said. “I think our team is a little more capable of playing that up-tempo style against a team like that than maybe we’ve been in the past.”

The Irish and Wolverines currently rank first and second at the top of the CCHA, and though it’s early in the season, the game could have major implications later on during what is shaping up to be a wide-open season.

“In the CCHA it seems like anyone can beat anyone,” Ridderwall said. “All the points are important, especially against the teams that are contending for the top four spots.”

The key for the Irish will be limiting costly mistakes that turn into odd-man situations.

“We’re going to have to play extremely well to have any type of success,” Jackson said. “They thrive on transition and if you make bad plays with the puck, they’re going to burn you, so you have to be really responsive and intelligent, making sure that you minimize the number of turnovers that you make.”

The Irish will be cognizant of the meaning of this weekend’s series.

“It’s always different, you know, Notre Dame and Michigan — in any sport,” Ridderwall said.

Notre Dame and Michigan clash Friday and Saturday in Ann Arbor at 7:35 p.m each night.