Hockey: Irish face North Dakota in top-10 matchup
Jack Hefferon | Monday, November 19, 2012
Two storied histories. Two elite squads. Two sets of interlocking “ND” jerseys.
That’s what will be on the line when No. 6 Notre Dame takes on No. 7 North Dakota this weekend.
North Dakota (5-3-2, 3-1-2 WCHL) is one of the greatest programs in the history of college hockey, with seven national championships in its trophy case back in Grand Forks, N.D. They are still a force to be reckoned with though, as evidenced by their top-10 ranking, and a roster that has top-to-bottom talent.
“They’re well balanced,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “They’ve got good forwards, good defense and good goaltending. They’re probably one of the top two or three teams in their conference, and they’re going to be a challenge ¬- probably the best team we’ll face all year outside of maybe Boston College. They’re a very good hockey team.”
For the Irish (8-3-0, 5-1-0-0 CCHA), North Dakota is merely the latest obstacle in a brutal November schedule. After splitting a series with No. 9 Western Michigan and losing a 3-1 contest at No. 1 Boston College, the Irish rebounded by sweeping a series at No. 19 Michigan for the first time since 1978. While Notre Dame is certainly riding a high after their winning weekend against the Wolverines, Jackson knows that the Irish still have plenty of room for needed improvement.
“We still have to improve our power play, and continue to work on faceoff. There’s always things to work on,” he said. “My biggest concern right now is getting [junior center] T.J. Tynan going, and I think our power play is a big part of that. I think we’ve been doing a decent job defensively and on the penalty kill, but offensively I think we can be more of a threat.”
In the midst of such a tough stretch, it might be a challenge just for the Irish to show up prepared and motivated for every game. But Jackson said he doesn’t believe that will be a problem for his team.
“I don’t think that will be an issue,” he said. “Our guys know that they’re one of the top programs in the country. We played up there a couple of years ago, and they manhandled us in the first game, then we held on for a tie the second night. So we definitely know what they’re capable of. Fortunately we’re home against them this time, so we’re expecting a great series and two close games.”
Regardless of the outcome for the Irish, two exciting games are most likely in store for South Bend hockey fans. The level of competition should only serve to fill the Compton Family Ice Arena – and, Jackson hopes, build up his team as well.
“That’s one of the reasons we made the decision to play them a few years back, was to try to bring in these high-profile programs for our fans,” Jackson said. “They’re also games that make us better. I’ve always said that playing tougher non-conference opponents makes us a better team overall. You go into it knowing that you’re probably not going to win every one of those games against those top teams, but if you can build confidence against those teams – that’s what matters to me.”
Notre Dame and North Dakota will square off this weekend at the Compton Family Ice Arena. The puck will drop on Friday at 7:35 p.m., while Saturday’s game will begin at 5:05 p.m.
Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]