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Hockey: Back on the ice

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The nastiness is back.

After missing seven games due to a head injury, sophomore left wing Jeff Costello returned to the Irish lineup Friday against Michigan State, leading the charge as the Irish won their first game in three weeks. For Costello, who had to drag himself through a slow rehab process while watching his teammates struggle, just getting back on the ice was a good feeling in itself.

“It felt good to step out in front of the home crowd, but you could definitely tell I hadn’t skated in a month,” Costello said. “Conditioning-wise I wasn’t 100 percent, but each and every day at practice I’m getting better and better.”

Despite not being at his best, Costello was a force in the weekend series. The hard-nosed sophomore was relentless in the hitting game, sparking Notre Dame to one of its most physical efforts of the season and its first shutout since 2009. That focus on checking is something Costello said the Irish may have missed during their five-game losing streak.

“[Hitting] is kind of what I do,” he said. “I think that might have been something we were missing the past few weeks while I’ve been out. And I like to think that hitting is kind of contagious — if one guy is finishing his checks, that’ll motivate everyone else to do it — and that’s when we’re playing our best. So I just try to go out there and do it right away.”

While Costello may be looked upon as a grinder, he has also been one of Notre Dame’s most surprising clutch scorers this year. Even though he’s missed 12 games and scored only four goals, Costello leads all Irish skaters with three game-winning goals. The Milwaukee native’s streak of timely scoring continued in his return Friday, as his power play goal early in the second period gave Notre Dame a lead it would never relinquish.

“[Scoring on Friday] was awesome,” Costello said. “We haven’t scored the first goal in a while, so, especially in my first game back, I was very fortunate to get that bounce that I did. I think that built up our confidence after that, especially in Friday night’s game.”

Friday’s win proved to be enough for the Irish to secure home ice for the opening round of the CCHA playoffs this weekend, when they’ll take on Ohio State in a best-of-three series. The Buckeyes have won just one of their 14 games since Jan. 1, and the atmosphere of the Compton Family Ice Arena should make turning that streak around a difficult task. If that wasn’t tough enough, the Buckeyes will have to deal with Costello, who is focused on making Ohio State’s visit to South Bend as unpleasant as possible.

“I think I bring a nastiness [to this team], and playing on the edge without going over, as [Irish] coach [Jeff] Jackson likes to tell me to do,” Costello said. “Never giving up on pucks, playing physically, getting pucks to the net, getting myself to the net so we’re in a position to score goals and making other teams not like playing against us, that’s sort of my job.”

Looming over the Irish through the entire CCHA playoffs will be the possibility of making the 16-team NCAA tournament field, and making another run toward the Frozen Four. A potential national championship appearance in Tampa is a long way off, and Costello said the team is focused on the task at hand.

“We’re just focused on Friday night, then we’ll deal with Saturday,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll make it to Detroit and play at Joe Louis Arena, but we have some work to do before then. We just need to take it one game at a time.”

 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu