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Hockey

ND breaks out of slump against UMass

| Sunday, December 7, 2014

Notre Dame put an end to its November blues and a five-game winless streak with a sweep over Massachusetts on Friday and Saturday, its first road sweep since joining Hockey East in 2013-14.

Paced by sophomore center Vince Hinostroza and senior defenseman Robbie Russo, the Irish (8-8-2, 4-2-2 Hockey East) had a five-goal third period Friday to win 7-5 and a 4-0 shutout Saturday to complete the sweep over the Minutemen (4-11-0, 1-9-0). Hinostroza had five assists on the weekend, while Russo had two goals and three assists.

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo skates alongside an attacker during Notre Dame's 3-2 overtime loss to Union College on Nov. 28.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo skates alongside an attacker during Notre Dame’s 3-2 overtime loss to Union College on Nov. 28.

During the month of November, Notre Dame struggled, as it went 1-6-2. Luckily, the only two games on the schedule in December were different, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

“We had a tough month of November,” Jackson said. “So being able to at least get off to a good start moving towards the second half, I think it bodes well for us to feel good about ourselves going into Christmas break before we come back for the second half of the year. So, hopefully we can build upon it.”

Friday night, the Irish trailed 3-2 going into the final stanza of the match, but unleashed their offense in the third period, led by senior right winger and captain Peter Schneider, who had two goals in the last period. Schneider netted his first goal of the night at 6:53 into the third and added an insurance goal with just 26 seconds left to close the game out 7-5. Schneider’s two goals took him to three on the season. The five-goal third period showed what the Irish are capable of doing, Jackson said.

“We showed some explosiveness and our depth showed up,” Jackson said. “We got some momentum and we built on it. Guys were doing a good job cycling the puck and getting pucks to the net. I thought we showed good poise and patience in the offensive zone. We just capitalized, which is real encouraging because that’s something that we have lacked consistently, just being productive five-on-five.”

Junior left winger Mario Lucia set off the wave of scoring 1:13 into the final period to tie the game up at 3-3 off an assist from Hinostroza. It was Lucia’s 10th goal of the season. After going four games without a point, Hinostroza halted his skid with two assists Friday night and three more Saturday. Jackson said he was pleased with the production of his second line consisting of Lucia, Hinostroza and senior right winger Austin Wuthrich, but also that he expects more of them moving forward. Wuthrich added a goal of his own in the second period Friday, also off of an assist from Hinostroza, to tie the game 2-2.

“Vinnie [Hinostroza] had a good weekend,” Jackson said. “It was real encouraging to see that line, all being productive. That’s what we need from them. We need them to be a top-two type of line. They have to be able to play those kind of minutes and be productive. The next step is for them to be more consistent in being productive on the power play.”

After earning the Friday night start, sophomore goaltender Chad Katunar struggled between the pipes Friday, Jackson said, as he gave up five goals on 25 shots.

“Chad earned the opportunity based on his performance last weekend to start on Friday,” Jackson said. “He didn’t have a great game. He even admitted he thought he was fighting the puck on Friday night.”

There is no starting goalie, Jackson said, and the rotation between Katunar and freshman Cal Peterson will continue until one proves to be the most consistent.

“I think we still have a competition in place,” Jackson said. “I don’t think either one has stepped up to say, ‘Hey I’m the guy,’ and as long as that continues we’ll keep on rotating through guys. If one guy steps up to be the starter, it will be based on consistency. You’ve got to be able to play night in and night out, period-to-period. I think they both have had some real good moments, and they have both have had some average moments. So that’s still a competition as far as I’m concerned.”

Peterson collected his second-career clean sheet Saturday, facing 14 shots, and leading Notre Dame to the 4-0 win.

“Cal Peterson played well on Saturday,” Jackson said. “… He didn’t have nearly the kind of work that Chad had, but he played well. He was in control and he did a really good job in the shots that he did face.”

Russo had two goals Saturday — one coming in the second period and the other coming in the third — to bring his season total to seven. Wuthrich and Lucia rounded out the scoring, with each picking up a goal. Jackson said Russo has been very valuable to the Irish, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the Irish with 17 points this season and anchors a young back line.

“Robbie has probably been our most consistent player in the first half,” Jackson said. “He’s done a good job for us leading in the back end with that young defense and has played a lot of minutes for us, but he’s been productive in those minutes.”

Overall on the weekend, Jackson said he saw much-needed improvements from the Irish.

“I thought we did a really good job of possessing the puck,” Jackson said. “We did a better jobs with face-offs. We did a much better job coming out of our zone and entering into the offensive zone. Our cycle game was pretty good. Penalty killing was pretty good. … For the most part, I thought there was some progress made.”

Despite the positives, Jackson said he still needs to see more out of the power play. The Irish went 0-2 Friday night, and a disappointing 1-10 Saturday, with their only goal coming on a five-on-three. On the season, the Irish have only converted on five of their 73 power plays for a conversion rate of .068.

“Still a little bit of an issue with the power play,” Jackson. “We had a lot opportunities and only scored one goal, on a five-on-three. So it’s still an area of concern that we have to continue to try and progress on.”

The offensive production Notre Dame displayed this weekend was a good sign going into break, Jackson said, adding that the team placed themselves in a good position in Hockey East for the second half.

“Yeah, outside of the power play, I thought five-on-five, we showed some depth offensively, which is more similar to what we’re accustomed to seeing with our program. Hopefully that will continue. At least conference-wise, we’re in decent shape. We haven’t played a lot of games, but you know we are going into the second half knowing that that’s going to be the priority, where we place in the conference.

The Irish will take a rest and return against Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 28, in the Florida College Hockey Classic in Estro, Florida.

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