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Hockey: Wolverines await

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No. 7 Notre Dame is sitting squarely in the middle of the valley of death, a veritable murderer’s row schedule that may be tougher than what they hope to witness in the NCAA championships in March. A split with No. 9 Western Michigan and a 3-1 loss at No. 1 Boston College are behind the Irish, and they’ve yet to reach their series with No. 6 North Dakota.

 

But this weekend, the team is focused only on the difficult task at hand, a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., to take on No. 13 Michigan.

 

For many teams, playing the Wolverines (4-4-1, 2-3-1-1 CCHA) would be one of the biggest challenges of the year. But in this brutal November for Notre Dame (6-3-0, 3-1-0-0), the Wolverines are just another test in a stretch that Irish coach Jeff Jackson has put together to test his team early in the year.

 

“They’ll all end up being top-10 teams, every one of them,” Jackson said. “So we just need to hold our own on the road, and then take care of business on the road. We’re going into this weekend thinking that we need points. If we can play these teams without losing confidence, then there’s no doubt that it’s going to make us better.”

 

Grabbing points against Michigan will not be easy, as that requires keeping up with the team’s electric offense. Forget about shutouts, the Wolverines haven’t been held under two goals yet in their nine games this year, averaging 4.22 goals a game.

 

“They’ve got a lot of talent up front,” Jackson said. “I expect them to be as scary offensively as any team we’ve faced.”

 

Those forwards are led by senior captain A.J. Treais, who already has eight goals and 13 points this season. Jackson said he has been familiar with Treais since trying to recruit him in his days with the U.S. National Team, and knows the dynamic forward will force the Irish defense to step up its game.

 

“He’s a really talented player,” Jackson said. “He’s extremely smart, quick and he’s got really good instincts. He’s really come into his own this year. He’s been kind of a secret for them on the third or fourth line these past couple years, but he’s always had the offensive ability and now he’s making the most of it.”

 

The Wolverines excel at scoring goals, but they also have a knack for giving them up, as well, with opponents averaging 3.56 goals per game. Jackson believes that his players will be able to find their opportunities to score, but that those opportunities may not necessarily start in the offensive end.

 

“You have to take advantage of your chances,” Jackson said. “Every team breaks down at some point, you just have to find a way to take advantage of it. Our strength when we’ve played well has been our transition game. That means we have to defend well first, and then get offense from our defensive opportunities.”

 

The Irish will also have to deal with playing in one of the most intimidating venues in college hockey: the Yost Ice Arena. Notre Dame was swept in its CCHA semifinal series at Yost last year, eliminating the Irish from both the conference and NCAA tournaments. If the Irish want to escape Ann Arbor with a win this time around, they’ll have to beat not only the Wolverines on the ice, but the ones in the stands as well.

 

“They have a great student section, and a great band. It’s a loud building,” Jackson said. “But it’s only intimidating if you let it become that. And that’s by giving them momentum. They always come out strong in their building, so we need to weather that storm, and then take advantage as the game progresses.”

 

Notre Dame will square off with Michigan tonight, and faces the Wolverines again on Friday. The puck will drop both nights at 7:35 p.m.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu