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Hockey: Top-ranked Eagles provide tough test

Conor Kelly | Friday, November 9, 2012

 

One year ago, Notre Dame knocked off top-ranked Boston College in dramatic fashion on “Dedication Night” for the recently-finished Compton Family Ice Arena, courtesy of a goal from current junior Bryan Rust with just 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime. 

It was a signature win for the Irish, and a scene the team hopes to repeat when No. 7 Notre Dame (6-2-0, 3-1-0-0 CCHA) travels to Chestnut Hill, Mass., for another matchup tonight with the once-again No. 1 Eagles (6-1-0, 4-1-0 Hockey East).

Boston College is once again ranked first in the country after capturing the 2012 national championship, the program’s third in five years.

While the annual game between the two teams has always been a natural rivalry, the intensity has increased since the Eagles defeated the Irish 4-1 in the 2008 national championship game and will only become more fervent as the Irish move from the CCHA to Hockey East next season. 

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said that the growing importance of the rivalry speaks volumes about how far the Irish program has come.

“Until a few years ago, I don’t know how seriously they took us,” Jackson said. “I think they take us seriously now. My first few years here, it was ‘just’ Notre Dame. Now it’s ‘Notre Dame.'”

“Ever since the national championship game, the rivalry has stepped up. They have a heck of a program, and it’s one we try to emulate. The style of play, the success is something that we’re trying to replicate here.”

Despite losses from last year’s championship squad, Jerry York’s team has remained at the top of the college hockey world, thanks in large part to sterling goaltending and a lethal power play. The Eagles rode the play of now-senior goaltender Parker Milner to the national championship in his first year as a starter in 2011-2012 and have continued to rely on him this year. The senior owns a .932 save percentage and a 1.99 GAA

The Eagles have already netted 10 power play goals on the year at a 40 percent conversion rate that is first in the country. Acknowledging this strength, Jackson noted that the Irish will have to play disciplined, penalty-free hockey and limit mistakes on the penalty kill.

“You have to contain them. You can’t allow them to get backdoor goals. You can’t allow them to get odd-man rushes on the power play,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to have skating ability, stick skills on defense and anticipation. You’ve got to be willing to block a shot or win a battle on the wall to get pucks out.”

The Irish have a strong group of forwards on the penalty kill, led by junior Mike Voran, who will hope to contain the Eagles’ attack. On offense, Notre Dame will continue to look to junior centers T.J. Tynan and captain Anders Lee for production.

With both schools’ football teams meeting on the gridiron Saturday, Jackson said the anticipation for the game is heightened.

“It’s a Notre Dame-B.C. weekend,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”

The Irish and Eagles will hit the ice at Kelley Rink at 7 p.m. tonight in Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu