Notre Dame takes road trip
Sam Gans | Thursday, January 30, 2014
No. 14 Notre Dame will face its first true road test in more than two months this weekend when the Irish travel to New Hampshire for a two-game series.
The Irish (15-9-1, 4-6-1 Hockey East) played Boston College in Fenway Park in Boston on Jan. 4, but the last time Notre Dame played a non-neutral site game outside of Compton Family Ice Arena was 12 games ago in a 3-1 loss at UMass-Lowell on Nov. 23.The Irish not only have to re-acclimate themselves to life away from Compton, but they’ll have to do so in a rink larger than their home playing surface. The Wildcats (14-13-1, 6-6-0) play in the Whittemore Center, which has a rink width of 100 feet compared to Compton’s 90 feet.
“It’s a brand new environment for us; our guys have to be prepared,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Our Olympic practice rink here isn’t nearly as big as their rink is. It’s an ocean out there. Getting acclimated to the rink will be important, plus they have a rowdy building and a big student crowd. It’s a tough building.”
Special teams could play a big impact in this weekend’s series. New Hampshire enters the game averaging just 7.39 penalty minutes per game, the lowest in the nation. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will hope to limit a New Hampshire power play, led by senior forwards Kevin Goumas and Nick Sorkin, that has converted on 20.7 percent of its attempts this season.
“We’re taking too many penalties on the road,” Jackson said. “You can’t take penalties like that on the road, because you’re going to have a hard time winning. We have to play with more discipline, and our goaltending has to be good.”
Notre Dame enters the weekend in eighth place in the 11-team Hockey East, three points behind the sixth-place Wildcats. But the Irish are also tied for the fewest Hockey East games played, as they try to work their way to the top four of the conference by the end of the regular season to receive a bye and home-ice advantage in the conference tournament.
“It’s not just four points, it’s an opportunity for us to get four points and get on a bit of a roll here,” senior defenseman Stephen Johns said. “And I think we have to if we want this season to go as long as possible. I think we all know we’re capable of doing it, but it’s a matter of fact that we need to go out and actually do it.”
A potential boost for Notre Dame this weekend is the expected return of sophomore forward Thomas DiPauli, who missed the last four games due to injury. He will come back to an Irish team that’s won five of their last six games, but been unable to sweep any Hockey East opponent this season.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend,” Jackson said. “[New Hampshire is] battling for a top-four spot in the conference, and we’re still thinking that’s a possibility, but we’ve got to win games.”
The Irish and Wildcats square off at 7:30 p.m. tonight and 4 p.m. Saturday in Durham, N.H.