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Gans: Too early for Irish to panic (Jan. 25)

Sam Gans | Friday, January 25, 2013

 

It’s too early to hit the panic button.

Notre Dame is entrenched in a recent slump, but the Irish (15-9-0, 11-5-0-0 CCHA) still sit atop the CCHA standings, are the seventh-ranked team in the nation and are tied for ninth in the PairWise rankings, the basis for determining who makes the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

Of course, Notre Dame’s place in the standings and rankings is largely because of its 14-4-0 start to the season. The team’s recent play naturally makes fans wonder whether that early-season success can be revived, or if it’s a thing of the past. The Irish have lost five of their last six games since returning from winter break after a three-and-a-half week layoff, including being swept last weekend at home by Alaska. That stat on its own is alarming. It gets even worse when you look at recent history.

Last season, the Irish began the year 13-6-3. In their final 18 games, however, they went 6-12-0 to struggle to a final 19-18-3 record, missing out on the NCAA tournament. The slump last year began in early January, just like this season’s downswing.

The similarities between the two seasons jump out, but the players are insisting this year is different, citing the camaraderie the team has.

“Most of the guys here went through what we did last year, and last year, we somewhat had a panic, I guess,” senior forward Nick Larson said. “And this year, we’re all supporting each other right now, and keeping each other mentally focused.”

Sophomore forward Peter Schneider echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“It’s very different [this year],” he said. “We are very confident that we’re going to turn this thing around this weekend. It’s obviously been a slump, but we’re very strong as a team.”

It’s easy for the players to say the team is closer, of course, but it needs to be displayed on the ice. Junior goaltender Steven Summerhays noted the team learned from last year’s mistakes and has already had extra meetings, while attempting to strike a balance of not placing too much pressure on itself, in an attempt to get back on track.

“Last year, we tried to let it blow by at points and think we’ll just let it bounce back on our own, and then we tried lots of meetings, and it was just kind of like nothing we were doing was working,” Summerhays said. “So I think this year, we’ve kind of just been in between that a little bit.”

The Irish can point to a few reasons for their struggles and to show why they won’t continue. The first four of the six games during the slump were on the road and played with minimal practice time for the Irish to prepare, because two of the games were mid-week. Last week’s series against Alaska also came on the heels of a Tuesday game at Bowling Green. And sometimes, streaks of bad play just occur in hockey.

But the Irish are now out of excuses.  They have dealt with injuries to key players, including junior forwards Jeff Costello and Mike Voran, but every team in the country does throughout the season. They have had a full week of practice and rest for the first time since the layoff and will once again hit the ice at the Compton Family Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday. Ferris State (12-9-3, 10-7-1-0) is the defending national runner-up and is currently one of the hottest teams in the CCHA, but the Irish have more talent, are at home and should be fully ready to go. 

Notre Dame is more than capable of righting the ship, but its play this weekend will probably show if it will, or if this season will sink like last year’s.

So, no, it’s not time to go into panic mode yet.

But if things don’t go well for the Irish against the Bulldogs, the hand should be ready to push the button Saturday night.

 

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu. The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of  The Observer.