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Hefferon: ND approaches end of a challenging, successful month (Nov. 28)

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It’s been a crazy November for No. 6 Notre Dame, and in the spirit of the month they should be thankful for making it through in flying colors.

The Irish (9-4-0, 5-1-0 CCHA) played seven games, all against top-25 ranked opponents, including No. 1 Boston College, No. 7 North Dakota and No. 10 Western Michigan. It was as tough a stretch as the team will see all year, and a great dress rehearsal for a run through the NCAA tournament to the Frozen Four. The gauntlet of a schedule, intentionally engineered by Irish coach Jeff Jackson, was designed to expose his team and find out what they were made of.

So what did we learn from November?

We learned that the Irish aren’t perfect, but they know how to recover in a big way. The team dropped three of its seven games, but bounced back from every loss to win its next time out by an average of three goals.

We learned that Notre Dame needs to improve, especially on the power play. The Irish converted just four of their 32 extra-man opportunities over that seven-game span, a percentage Jackson will not want to see going forward, to put it mildly.

But perhaps most important of all is what the Irish learned about themselves, and that’s that they can be as good as they want to be going forward. At Boston College, Notre Dame squared off with the nation’s best team, and hung with them without playing their best hockey. The next weekend, the Irish went in to Yost Ice Arena and swept Michigan for the first time in 33 years, holding a team that averaged 4.22 goals per game to just one each night.

Jackson said he scheduled such a brutal lineup of opponents so that his team could build confidence if they played well, and the team has definitely earned some self-assurance going forward.

Though it’s early, the Irish sit just one point out of first place in the CCHA, which looks like it will be as much of a tossup as ever. And after surviving a murderer’s row in November, Notre Dame’s schedule relaxes a bit in the upcoming months, as the team will play just one game against a ranked team – a January trip to No. 3 Minnesota – over the next two months.

Certainly, Notre Dame still has plenty of issues to address. The offense needs to become more consistent, as does the scoring of junior center T.J. Tynan, who has managed just two goals so far this season. Face-offs still need to improve, and the long CCHA season will force the Irish to grind through four more months of hockey, with no sure things on the schedule.

But if the Irish can build on their November performance and use it to power them through the rest of the year, they might have a national championship to be thankful for at this time next year.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.