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Hockey: Hockey East comes to Compton

Sam Gans | Friday, November 15, 2013

 

The No. 4 Irish return to conference action this weekend when they host Merrimack in a two-game series that marks the first Hockey East games ever played in Compton Family Ice Arena.

After splitting a non-conference home series against No. 1 Minnesota last weekend, Notre Dame (7-3-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East) will face a different style of hockey than the up-tempo play the Gophers employed when the Warriors (3-5-0, 0-2-0) visit tonight and Saturday.

“They pack it in defensively,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “There’s going to be five guys in front of the net like [former CCHA opponent] Ferris State has played and they transition from it. So that’s their way of generating speed as well, but they’re more of a patient team waiting for their chances to score and they defend well. They play an aggressive forechecking system.”

The Irish have implemented a faster-paced style as the game of hockey has changed in recent years, Jackson said. He said Notre Dame has tried emulating the up-tempo style of NHL teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, while utilizing the width of the ice to generate speed similarly to the Boston Bruins.

“With so many teams really packing it in down low defensively – and we’re going to see more of that in the next couple of weeks – you really have to make sure that you keep the puck moving so teams can’t outnumber you,” Jackson said. “There’s some element of speed but it’s more about puck support and body positioning to create speed in the offensive zone.”

Complicating the use of that strategy is a plethora of injuries to the Notre Dame roster, as forwards senior Mike Voran, sophomore Thomas DiPauli, freshman Vince Hinostroza and junior defenseman Eric Johnson are all on the mend. Jackson said DiPauli is close to returning, and when he does, the usual winger could see time at center, but the rest will be out for at least a few weeks.

“Consistency’s a huge thing,” Jackson said. “It’s been a little bit more challenging because our depth’s been impacted over the last few weeks and we have to really focus on one game at a time, even though I would like to see us get a little winning streak going at some point here.”

Notre Dame’s 10 seniors have familiarity with Merrimack from their freshman seasons, when the Irish defeated the Warriors 4-3 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament en route to the Frozen Four. 

“We were just throwing everything we could at the net,” Irish senior forward and alternate captain Bryan Rust said about the game three seasons ago. “That’s how we were successful [against] them. … That’s the kind of thing we have to do against teams like this who just pack it in defensively. We’ve just got to get pucks and bodies to the net.”

This season, Merrimack has struggled offensively, scoring just 16 goals through eight games. The Warriors were swept by No. 5 Providence last weekend, but Jackson said it’s important the Irish – particularly coming off a hyped series against Minnesota – don’t take them lightly.

“These are conference games,” Jackson said. “You always worry about a letdown after a big series but this is our first home conference series. We already split a road series. And if we’re going to be a top-four team in Hockey East then we’re going to have to win games at home so we can’t have anything less than our best effort, because I know that we’ll get Merrimack’s best effort.

“And it’s too early in the season to prognosticate where they’re going to finish in the standings. They may be in the top five. Who knows? They haven’t played enough games in conference, either. They gave Providence College all they could handle this past weekend, so I expect that they’re going to be a challenging team for everybody.”

The Irish take on the Warriors tonight at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu