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Hockey: Notre Dame prepares for staunch Buckeye defense

Peter Steiner | Friday, February 1, 2013

 

After snapping a five-game losing streak Saturday, one word best describes the Irish as they head into this weekend’s road series with Ohio State – excited.

Notre Dame (16-10-0, 12-6-0 CCHA), relieved to put their January record of 2-6-0 behind them, is excited to have the entire roster available for the first time all season.

Following a frustrating 3-1 defeat to Ferris State on Jan. 25, the team breathed a collective sigh of relief after its 5-2 victory against the Bulldogs the following night. Notre Dame utilized three goals from the third and fourth lines, including senior right wing Kevin Nugent’s first career goal, which turned out to be the game-winner.

“It’s nice to get a win under our belt after so long,” junior center David Gerths said. “We were struggling there for a bit, but I think we have our head in the right place now and we are looking forward to this weekend.”

Notre Dame will face Ohio State on Friday and Saturday in its third straight CCHA weekend series. The Irish sit in third place in the CCHA with 36 points, while the Buckeyes (10-11-5, 9-6-3), who swept Lake Superior State at home Jan. 25 and 26, rank sixth.

“We’re going into a tough place,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We are playing a team that’s a good penalty killing team with maybe the best goalie in the country. The power play will be challenged in many ways this weekend.”

The Buckeyes enter the series 4-3-2 at home and boast a CCHA-best 89.8 penalty kill percentage. Ohio State’s other strong asset tends its net, as senior goalkeeper Brady Hjelle boasts a .946 save percentage and 1.60 goals-against average to rank second and third in the NCAA, respectively.

Fortunately for the Irish, they will have their entire roster to counter the Buckeyes as junior right wing Michael Voran made the trip to Columbus, Ohio, and is expected to play, Jackson said.

“[Wednesday] was the first day of the 2012-2013 season where we actually practiced our entire roster,” Jackson said. “Right now I think we’ve got five lines worth of guys that could potentially play.”

That fact bodes well for Notre Dame as its opponents will have difficulties matching a healthy Irish roster, Irish junior center T.J. Tynan said.

“Depth is huge for a team and I think we are a deep team,” Tynan said. “When we get four lines rolling, there are not many teams that will be able to keep up with us. I think we got away from that during the struggles that we had. It was big to get goals from other guys this [last] weekend.”

In addition to receiving goals from the third and fourth lines Saturday, the Notre Dame also netted a power-play goal to finish Saturday’s game, ending its 0-for-14 power play streak.

“We’ve worked on power play every day this week,” Jackson said. “It’s just a matter of them getting their mojo back, their chemistry back.”

Notre Dame’s goal-scoring issues have not been contained to just its power play unit as the team averaged 1.5 goals per game in its eight games in January.

“We’ve been too perimeter-ish, which has led to not scoring a lot of goals. In all situations, we just have to be more intense at getting to the net, whether it’s from the cycle, on the power play, off the rush or off faceoffs,” Jackson said. “It takes effort and it takes courage. We have to continue to push them to fight for that ice.

“Hopefully we can build off what we did Saturday night and come back with a great performance on Friday.”

The Irish will take the ice against the Buckeyes tonight and Saturday at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, at 7:05 p.m.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu