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Hockey: ND swept by UMass-Lowell

By Jack Hefferon | Monday, November 25, 2013

No. 6 Notre Dame sent a threadbare squad on the plane to New England, only to have No. 11 Massachusetts-Lowell park the bus on them.

Going up against the River Hawks (10-4-0, 4-1-0 Hockey East) and their highly defensive brand of hockey, the Irish (8-5-1, 2-3-1) managed just one goal on the weekend and lost 1-0 Friday and 3-1 Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.

The losses both came on nights where Notre Dame outshot the hosts but had trouble finding the back of the net.

“I think our guys worked hard,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We had plenty of opportunities. We just didn’t finish. They pack five guys in front of the goal, and their goalie played quite well. He didn’t allow us a lot of second-chance opportunities.”

Friday night’s game came down to one shot, which came off the stick of River Hawks junior center Stephen Buco. A pair of Irish penalties gave UMass-Lowell a two-man advantage late in the first period, which Notre Dame killed off. On a subsequent power play, however, the River Hawks gained the zone on a rush past tired Irish penalty killers, allowing Buco to slip a backhand past Irish senior goaltender Steven Summerhays.

That goal was all it took to give UMass-Lowell the opening win in the series.

“That’s a goal I think Steve Summerhays would probably like to have back, but if you start playing the game thinking that you can’t give up any goals, that’s not good,” Jackson said. “We need to get our team going again offensively.”

The Irish struggled to rally back on both Friday and Saturday nights, as a lack of depth due to injuries wore down the team on the penalty kill. Notre Dame’s lack of depth on the penalty kill proved costly again Saturday night, as the Irish fell behind early on two first-period power-play goals from UMass-Lowell. The Irish halved the lead in the second period off a power-play goal of their own from senior winger Bryan Rust, only to have the River Hawks put the game away with a late empty-netter, which came, like all their other goals on the weekend, with a man advantage.

“The injuries do have an impact,” Jackson said. “It’s tough to kill off multiple penalties in a row when you’ve got four or five guys going every other shift. The guys we’re using right now are some of our top offensive guys, and I think that tires them out from scoring goals. That certainly had an impact on our special teams. But we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to be better.”

The Irish will have some help in their quest to improve. For one, the team stands just four games away from its four-week Christmas break, which will allow Notre Dame time to work on its weaknesses and heal up its battered roster. 

Additionally, with the exception of an outdoor game against Boston College at Fenway Park in early January, the Irish have no true road games until the first weekend of February, which will give them a break from their punishing Hockey East travel schedule.

Jackson’s focus, though, extends only as far as next weekend.

“We have four games before break, and this weekend we need to get a little confidence back offensively,” Jackson said. “We have to focus on what’s ahead of us, not what’s behind us, and right now we have to focus on getting to Christmas break and getting guys back.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu