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Hockey: Irish face Falcons on Senior Night

Casey Karnes | Friday, March 1, 2013

Notre Dame’s seniors will look to end their home careers on a winning note when they face off against Bowling Green this weekend.

This weekend marks the final regular season series at Compton Family Ice Arena for the No. 12 Irish (19-12-3, 15-8-3-2 CCHA), and the final time four seniors will play in front of the home crowd. Goaltender Mike Johnson, defenseman Sam Calabrese, forward Nick Larson, and forward Kevin Nugent will be honored Saturday night, and the team will wear green jerseys to commemorate Senior Night.

“It will be bittersweet for all of us, because it was a great ride,” Johnson said. “It will be interesting to see where we go from here.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson sees players come and go every year, but it never gets any easier.

“Senior week is always a little bit sentimental for me,” Jackson said. “I really care about all four of these kids, they’re great kids, and have always been good team guys.”

To properly send off the seniors, the Irish will have to best the Falcons (13-16-5,10-13-3-1), who have been on a tear recently after a slow start to the season.

“They’ve been one of the best teams in the conference in the second half,” Jackson said. “They will present a lot of challenges. I expect them to be a team that will be tough to reckon with over the next few years.”

The Falcons bring an aggressive, physical style of play to the ice. With a successful weekend, they will be able to clinch home ice in the CCHA tournament. The teams split their first two matchups this season, and the Falcons head into Compton with momentum.

“They grind, they have big bodies, they aren’t afraid to lay body,” junior defenseman Shayne Taker said. “They have some skill up front. It’s going to be tough physically just like last weekend.”

Coming off two straight weekends on the road against top-10 teams, and with the playoffs just around the corner, the Bowling Green series seems to be a classic trap- game scenario.  The Irish, however, still have a chance to gain ground in the conference standings and the NCAA tournament picture, so they will not be taking the weekend lightly.

“We don’t want to go into the playoffs on a losing streak, or not confident. We’re going to go into these games like they’re the most important of the year, because they are,” Johnson said. “We definitely know we’re in for a battle because Bowling Green is a tough team to play against. They’re really gritty, and they don’t make it easy ever. We’ll need our ‘A’ game both nights.”

After a stellar performance last weekend, Saturday’s 1-1 shootout win in particular, junior Steven Summerhays will get the start in goal Friday night. Jackson has left the possible of Johnson getting the start on Senior Night however. Regardless of which goalie is in net, the Irish know that they must stay focused as they arrive at the climax of their season.

“It’s all mental. We have to have a great week of practice,” Taker said. “Going into this week, I think we have to keep the confidence level up, but also not be too confident. We have to stick to the basics, what’s going to get us there, get us to the NCAAs.”

With the Irish locked into at least third place in the CCHA and the Falcons still battling for position, Jackson said urgency will be a key factor this weekend.

“We’ve had a lot of emotion and physical games in the last few weeks, and this is no different,” Jackson said. “We have to match Bowling Green’s desperation, because they’re going to play with desperation.”

The Irish begin their final regular season home series against Bowling Green at 7:35 p.m. on Friday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Casey Karnes at wkarnes@nd.edu