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Hockey: Costello returns from injury, renews squad

Sam Gans | Thursday, November 3, 2011

Following a road sweep against Bowling Green last weekend, the No. 4/6 Irish will look to duplicate the feat this weekend when they travel to Marquette, Mich., to take on No. 17 Northern Michigan.

Notre Dame (5-2-0, 3-1-0-0 CCHA) hopes to receive a boost from the return of sophomore left wing Jeff Costello. He will play for the first time since a 5-3 win at Minnesota-Duluth on Oct. 8 after suffering an undisclosed injury.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson is looking forward to seeing his complete lineup hit the ice.

“This may be the first weekend we actually know what we [have,] top to bottom, because Costello’s a big cog to this team from a physical perspective. He scores goals [and] he’s an intense player that makes us a better team,” Jackson said. “So having him back is going to give me a better idea of exactly what we do have.”

Opposing the Irish is a Northern Michigan squad that was just swept at Western Michigan. Though the Wildcats (4-3-1, 1-2-1-0) are coming off a pair of losses, they will be returning to the Upper Peninsula and the friendly confines of the Berry Events Center where they are 3-0-1 on the season, including a win and tie on Oct. 21 and 22 against defending national runner-up Michigan.

A unique difference in the rink at Northern Michigan compared to many others in college hockey is the Olympic-sized ice sheet, which is about 10 feet wider than most rinks. The Irish practiced this week on the Olympic-sized practice rink attached to the Compton Family Ice Arena to help prepare.

The size of the rink is just one of the factors Jackson thinks the Wildcats use to create a strong home-ice advantage.

“You get last [line] change [at home], which is a big advantage in my opinion, but the fact [is] they play on an Olympic-ice sheet so they’re built for that. Their team as far as a transition game, they play a pro-style, but they’re really good on transition and [Wildcat coach] Walt [Kyle is] a good coach. He’s going to get them going at home probably even better than on the road.”

Senior forward Justin Florek, who has five goals and four assists through eight games, leads the Wildcats in points and senior forward Tyler Gron was a preseason second-team all-CCHA selection. Northern Michigan also utilizes two goaltenders, with senior Reid Ellingson and sophomore Jared Coreau each having started four games on the season.

“[The Wildcats are] a good hockey team, watching them on film,” Jackson said. “They almost swept Michigan up there and that’s not an easy thing to do for anybody, so they’re pretty well-balanced. They look like they’re deeper than they were last year offensively and they’re solid in the back end and they’ve got two good goalies, not just one.”

After going 15-19-5 last season, the Wildcats appear to be a better team this year, which has not gone unnoticed by the Irish.

“They’ve improved since last year,” Irish sophomore center T.J. Tynan said. “They have some pretty good forwards. It’s going to be a tough task for us this weekend.”

The Irish travel to Northern Michigan for a two-game series Friday and Saturday against the Wildcats. Faceoff for both games is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.