ND plagued by inconsistency
Alex Carson | Tuesday, January 13, 2015
After a few weeks off, Notre Dame headed into the second half of its season with a .500 record. Then, a 3-2 overtime win against then-No. 6 Miami (Ohio) in the opening round of the Florida College Hockey Classic on Dec. 28 gave the Irish an opportunity to head into the new year with momentum.
Instead, the Irish (9-11-2, 4-2-2 Hockey East) suffered three consecutive losses; a 2-1 defeat to Lake Superior State in the Classic’s title game on Dec. 29 and a pair of setbacks — 4-2 and 4-3 — in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday nights with Western Michigan.Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the winter-break stretch put his team’s lack of consistency on full display.
“We were hoping that going into the second half we could get away from playing a good game and a bad game,” Jackson said.
“It’s not like we’re not working hard, but we’re not competing in certain areas of the ice and we need to be more consistent competing there. We’ll have to identify where the inconsistencies come from and then try to resolve them.”
The Irish trailed 2-0 with fewer than seven minutes to go in their lone win — the triumph over the now-No. 9 Redhawks (14-8-0) — but a pair of goals and an assist from freshman right winger Jake Evans lifted the Irish to the overtime victory.
Notre Dame then met a team in the final it had already beaten twice this season — Lake Superior State (4-19-1) — but the Irish struggled to get a third win against the school that Jackson won two national titles with in the 1990s.
The Lakers took an early 1-0 lead before Irish senior right winger Austin Wuthrich tied it up with just over five minutes to play. The deadlock did not last long, however, as just 58 seconds later, Lakers junior defenseman Eric Drapluk beat Irish freshman goaltender Cal Petersen to give his team the tournament crown.
Looking to bounce back, Notre Dame headed north for a home-and-home rivalry series with Western Michigan (9-9-2), opening in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Friday night before returning to the Compton Family Ice Arena on Saturday.
After goals from junior winger Mario Lucia and freshman defenseman Jordan Gross on either side of the first intermission, the Irish held a 2-1 lead 22 minutes into the game. However, late in the second period, the host Broncos tied the game up before winning it with a pair of scores in the third period.
Back at home Saturday night, the series finale started off better for the Irish, as Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead on a power-play goal just 6:13 into the game.
The Irish entered Saturday with just a six percent conversion rate on the power play — last in the nation — but got the lead when junior center Thomas DiPauli buried a goal from the slot off an assist by Lucia.
“We gotta hope that we can get one [power play goal] a game,” Jackson said. “It would’ve been nice to get a second one later in the game but again, that’s consistency too. I think there was a little progress made but I’m not gonna be convinced until we can score a power-play goal every game or every other game.”
Notre Dame’s lead grew to 2-0 when sophomore center Vince Hinostroza scored a four-on-four goal 15:04 into the first period, but the Irish advantage was short-lived.
Broncos senior forward Justin Kovacs cut the Irish lead in half just 12 seconds later and at the 16:57 mark, the game was tied when Broncos senior forward Will Kessel beat Irish sophomore goaltender Chad Katunar on a power-play goal.
The Irish retook the lead, however, just 2:05 into the second period when Lucia notched his 13th goal of the 2014-2015 campaign, taking his team ahead 3-2 and extending his team lead.
This time, it would take eight minutes for the Broncos to draw level again, when junior forward Nolan Laporte tallied on the power play.
With just 66 seconds remaining, Western Michigan secured the sweep when junior forward Colton Hargrove scored an unassisted goal to win the game.
Jackson was critical of both his goaltenders after both allowed four goals in their start to Western Michigan and called on them to up their performances.
“[Katunar] had a better week of practice last week so I gave him a start on Saturday and I don’t think he was really sharp there,” Jackson said. “But we also need Petersen to show that he’s capable of stepping up into that role. Both of them had been pretty solid at the start of the year but in the last couple of games, it was their turn to show that lack of consistency.”
After seeing limited action in the first half of the season, freshman defenseman Nathan Billitier left the program to join the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs.
Notre Dame returns to Hockey East action this weekend when they play a home-and-home series with Connecticut. The Irish will host the Huskies on Friday night at 7:35 p.m. before traveling to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for a noon matinee Sunday.