ND, Michigan to renew rivalry
Chris Allen | Thursday, January 19, 2012
Fresh off two defeats to Western Michigan, the No. 6 Irish look to rebound in the CCHA when they take the ice in one of college hockey’s biggest rivalries for a pair of home contests against No. 10 Michigan.
Both Notre Dame (13-8-3, 8-5-3-0 CCHA) and the Wolverines (14-8-4, 8-6-4-1 CCHA) competed in last season’s Frozen Four, but periods of inconsistency have placed both teams a handful of points behind conference pace-setters No. 5 Ohio State and No. 8 Western Michigan in the CCHA race. With Michigan sitting just two points ahead of the Irish, senior defenseman and captain Sean Lorenz emphasized the importance of a good showing this weekend.
“It’s a huge weekend to stay in the race,” Lorenz said. “The CCHA is definitely one of the best leagues in the country right now, and everybody’s doing well. Every game’s going to be a battle, and we can’t afford to lose games, so we need to come out strong.”
Notre Dame enters the contest on the heels of a pair of disappointing defeats to Western Michigan. The Irish dropped a pair of 3-2 and 3-1 decisions as the Broncos completed the first series sweep of the Irish since February 2010.
Despite the losses, Lorenz downplayed concern and said the losses have refocused the team in practice.
“[Western Michigan is] a good team; they’re going to end up in the [NCAA] tournament. We can play better hockey and we know it,” he said. “You’ve got to feel comfortable going into this weekend and know that we can do well.”
An improvement in shooting will be a focus for Irish coach Jeff Jackson’s squad going into the crucial Michigan series. Notre Dame outshot Western Michigan in both of last weekend’s contests, but failed to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Lorenz said efficiency on the offensive end will be a top team goal this weekend.
“We didn’t bury our chances against Western Michigan,” he said. “We had a lot of scoring chances, and we actually out-chanced them in both games, but we couldn’t put the puck in the net. We have to get back to scoring five-on-five goals.”
The Irish will be without junior center Riley Sheahan for Friday’s game due to a one-game suspension for an illegal hit delivered against Western Michigan on Jan. 13. Sheahan will be eligible to return Saturday.
Seemingly always one of the top teams in the conference, as well as the country, Michigan enters the game coming off a sweep of conference leader Ohio State. The play of senior goalie Shawn Hunwick, who brings a 0.50 goals against average, leads a dangerous Michigan squad hitting the final stretch of the season.
“Michigan is coming in hot. They’re one of the hottest teams in our league right now,” Lorenz said. “Watching film of them, they’re also skating well now, and that’s going to be a big point of emphasis this week, heading into the weekend. We’re going to make sure we try and skate with them.”
The atmosphere at the Compton Family Ice Arena will also be noteworthy in the first and only regular-season matchup between the two teams this season. Friday night marks the first installment of the “White Out” promotion taking place in the new arena.
Lorenz said the team is aware of the potential for heightened intensity in the building.
“We need to rebound this weekend against Michigan,” Lorenz said. “What a weekend to rebound. It’s a huge rivalry. Their fans will be going nuts and we have the White Out.”
The puck will drop at 7:35 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights. NBC Sports Network will broadcast Friday’s game nationally, while CBS Sports Network will broadcast Saturday’s match-up.
Contact Chris Allen at email@example.com