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Hockey: Nugent breaks through

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Senior winger Kevin Nugent is known in the Irish locker room as a grinder, a penalty killer and a consummate team player – a guy who hustles on the ice and keeps things light off of it. But, after three years of hard work, he’ll now be known in another role: goal scorer.

In the second period of Saturday’s game against Ferris State, Nugent came down the boards at the end of a shift, made a quick move inside to his forehand and threw a puck in at goal. The shot zoomed just inside the top right corner of the net, and the next thing Nugent saw was six-foot-four junior defenseman Stephen Johns jumping on top of him. Junior center T.J. Tynan picked up the puck for Nugent almost before it landed, and soon all four of the other skaters were celebrating on top of the senior.

“I was just going to take a shot and get off the ice, and it happened to go in,” Nugent said. “It was a pretty awesome feeling to see my teammates being happy for me … I’m glad it wasn’t a garbage goal.”

Nugent’s first career tally came after 64 games of waiting, and on a night his father and former Irish standout, Kevin Sr., was in the building to watch and celebrate.

But the timing was even more fortuitous for Notre Dame (16-10-0-0, 12-6-0-0 CCHA), as it proved to be a spark for the team when it needed it most. Nugent’s goal broke a 2-2 tie in the second and proved to be the game-winner, as the Irish won 5-2 to snap a five-game losing streak.

“That had a lot to do with the rest of the game and how we finished,” Tynan said. “He stepped up, and we all saw that and responded.”

And, while Nugent was instrumental in breaking the team out of its losing skid, he was also a key factor in keeping them going during it. Irish coach Jeff Jackson noted that his team didn’t get down or divisive among themselves after losing six of seven games and credited Nugent’s locker room presence as part of what kept the team together during a rough patch.

“You can’t be too serious all the time,” Nugent said. “You’ve got to keep it light. When you’re losing, the only way you’re going to get out of it is to stay positive … We’ve had the attitude of having fun first, and that has led to success on the ice.”

Even with the win, the Irish have still lost six of their last eight games and have a tough series ahead of them at Ohio State this weekend. But, instead of trying to reverse their fortunes, they will enter into Friday’s game riding a one-game winning streak, a bit of momentum Nugent hopes can keep them rolling.

“You hope that this is something we can build on,” he said. “We’ve been sticking with our gameplan, we’ve just needed a couple bounces. And once you start getting bounces, they all start coming.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu