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Hockey: Squad looks to repeat sweep against Wolverines

By Sam Gans | Friday, February 8, 2013

As No. 12 Notre Dame attempts to make a move toward the top of the CCHA standings, it will welcome a familiar foe to the Compton Family Ice Arena when Michigan comes to town.

The Irish (16-11-1, 12-7-1-1 CCHA) and Wolverines (10-16-2, 7-13-2-2) will meet for the third and fourth times this season Friday and Saturday, respectively. Notre Dame swept the Wolverines at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., in November, its first sweep at Michigan since 1978.

Michigan was selected first in the CCHA preseason media poll and began the season ranked No. 3 in the country, but has not performed up to preseason expectations and currently sits tied for eighth in the 11-team conference. However, the Wolverines swept Michigan State last weekend and are playing better hockey lately with the recent returns of junior defenseman Jon Merrill and sophomore defenseman Brennan Serville from injury and improvement from freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

“Michigan had a bad first half,” Jackson said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t recover from it. So they certainly concern me. They’re a much better team.”

Irish junior captain and center Anders Lee said not only are the Wolverines improved from the teams’ first series, but the current CCHA race makes every game difficult, no matter the opponent.

“I can guarantee you that they’re playing a lot better right now,” Lee said. “That was months and months ago, so they’ve been a team that much longer and been playing together that much longer, and at the same time, it’s the CCHA, getting ready for the final standings and that battle for the last final spots, so no matter who it is, it’s going to be a grind.”

While the Wolverines have struggled most of the season, the Irish have had their own difficulties since the winter break layoff, managing a 2-7-1 record since Jan. 8. The Irish defeated Ferris State on Jan. 26, but dropped their next game at Ohio State on Feb. 1. The next night, however, the Irish outshot the Buckeyes 47-22 in a 2-2 tie, which Jackson hopes is a sign of future progress.

“It didn’t take us a game or two to get into that mess in January,” Jackson said. “It took us some time for that to develop. It’s going to take us a little time for us to get out of it, and I saw progress last weekend against Ferris, but I saw more progress this weekend against Ohio State. … We’ll see this weekend if we’re continuing to progress in a good direction.”

Irish junior goaltender Steven Summerhays has started the vast majority of games for Notre Dame this season, but was pulled after two periods Friday against Ohio State after allowing five goals. In more than four periods of action on Friday and Saturday against the Buckeyes, senior goaltender Mike Johnson allowed just two goals, and didn’t surrender a goal in Saturday’s shootout. Jackson did not reveal his plans at netminder for both nights of the Michigan series, but stood behind Summerhays.

“I’d say [the goaltending situation is] a little more in flux than maybe it was a month ago, but I still have confidence in Steven Summerhays,” Jackson said. “He’s shown he can win games like we’ll need to win this weekend. We’ll need good goaltending to win this weekend. And he’s showed when he played Michigan in the early stages of the year that he’s capable of making the big save and playing big games and big moments, and he has to get that mojo back.

“I still believe Steven’s a guy that can win in a big environment for us, and right now every game is big, so I haven’t bailed on him yet.”

This weekend’s series marks the final regular season CCHA meetings between the two programs, as Michigan begins its first season of Big Ten hockey next year while Notre Dame moves to Hockey East. Jackson said he hopes the series will continue as a scheduled non-conference matchup in future years due to the passion of the rivalry, which will be on display this weekend.

“Any time we play Michigan, it’s always intense,” Jackson said. “There’s not going to be much motivation from my end as far as playing this weekend, and I’m sure it’s the same for them. It’s just always an intense series. I won’t need to get them more physically engaged, that’ll happen naturally.”

The Irish and Wolverines are set to face off at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu