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Hockey: No shortcuts allowed

Allan Joseph | Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Oct. 21, No. 2 Notre Dame opened the brand-new Compton Family Ice Arena with a 5-2 win over Rensselaer. In doing so, the Irish (10-3-3, 7-2-3-0 CCHA) also kicked off an 11-game unbeaten streak that seemed to peak last Friday with a dominant 4-1 win at No. 14 Lake Superior State.

That all came crashing down in the second leg of the series, however, as the Irish dropped a 5-2 decision to the Lakers on Saturday. This weekend, Notre Dame hopes to erase that bitter taste as it hosts Northeastern.

“[The players] should be upset about how that game went last Saturday night, because … we went from one of our best games of the season on Friday night, in my opinion, to being loose with the puck,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It was the seventh game in 15, 20 days, but … it isn’t an excuse, none of it’s an excuse, because if we eliminate the penalty-killing goals against, we’re right in that game.”

Jackson said he had been pleased with his team’s progress on both special teams until this past weekend.

“We were going really good there for a while until this weekend,” he said. “Our power play’s been more consistent, a work in progress in some ways. I think our penalty had made real good strides until Saturday night … but I thought that we had been doing really well.”

Jackson emphasized that he did not want his young squad to get complacent as the Huskies (4-7-2, 3-7-2 Hockey East) come to town.

“They’re still a young team, and they’ve still got to figure things out in some ways,” Jackson said. “Just because we had some success, we’re not going to get sweet on ourselves and start taking shortcuts. We can’t do it on the ice, and we can’t do it off the ice.”

After struggling early in the season, Northeastern is riding a three-game winning streak highlighted by a 4-1 victory at No. 11 Michigan on Nov. 25. The Huskies showed early signs of their potential, taking then-No. 1 Boston College to overtime on Oct. 22 and falling in extra time to current No. 1 Merrimack on Nov. 5.

“They’ve played well here in the last month. Going to Yost [Arena] and beating Michigan handily is pretty impressive,” Jackson said. “They’ve won their last three, [and] they’ve given Merrimack and BC fits even though they haven’t beaten them. They’ve got a great goaltender, three solid lines offensively, so I expect this is going to be a pretty challenging weekend.”

The Huskies play an up-tempo style typical of the Hockey East, and the quick pace of the game will challenge the Irish, who move to the Hockey East beginning in 2013.

“We’re trying to develop a team that plays that kind of game, so it’s always good to play those kind of teams,” Jackson said. “It forces your players to make plays under pressure and helps them learn poise. When they don’t play with poise against teams like that, then they have trouble because they turn pucks over.

“Northeastern will come at us. They’re not going to sit back. They’re going to come after us, and we’re going to have to make plays under pressure.”

As the Irish prepare for a break in the nonconference slate, Jackson said Notre Dame must focus on playing consistent hockey for the duration of the game. The Irish have struggled early in games this season.

“In any team that I’ve ever coached, I’ve never had a team that had three great periods … As long as it’s not the third period, that would be the one I’d be more concerned with, but it’s hard,” Jackson said. “That’s the objective, is to try and play 60 minutes of hockey, and being ready for the start of the game is a big part of it. But it’s just as important to me to play well in the second and the third, especially the third.

“These are important games for us. … In the big picture, they’re just as important as any conference game, so we’ve got to be focused and ready to play.”

The Irish host the Huskies in a two-game series at the Compton Family Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday. Both games begin at 7:05 p.m.

 

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu