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Sports

Line changes fuel power play revival

| Thursday, February 5, 2015

The conversion rate of hockey power plays hovers around 17-18 percent, with the top-10 teams in Division I all above 22 percent this year.

After a success rate of 18.2 percent last year, Notre Dame’s 12.3 percent (14-of-114) this season might seem like a reason the Irish are having an off year at 11-14-3, 6-5-3 in Hockey East.

That conversion rate, however, is misleading, as the Irish are having a renaissance of sorts on the power play in the second half of the season. Notre Dame is finally putting the pieces together, posting a 31 percent (9-of-29) conversion rate over its last seven games, including a power play goal in every game since Jan. 10. Over the last three games, Notre Dame has gone 5-for-10 (50 percent).

“As crazy as that is, it’s just a matter of switching the point guys from what we had — and chemistry,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

One of those moves involved shifting leading scorer and senior defenseman Robbie Russo to the second unit.

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo circles the net Jan. 16 against UConn at Compton Family Ice Arena. The two teams tied, 3-3.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo circles the net Jan. 16 against UConn at Compton Family Ice Arena. The two teams tied, 3-3.

Junior left winger Mario Lucia also said the success of the power play has everything to do with personnel.

“I think we just got the right pieces together,” Lucia said. “The power play is all about fitting the puzzle together with the right players and finding the right chemistry and finding the right setup that works. [It] took us a little while to finally find that, but once we did, now it’s starting to click.”

For Notre Dame, getting the units right meant separating arguably its two best players. Russo has tallied 11 goals and 25 points this season, despite missing this past weekend’s series against New Hampshire due to a suspension. Sophomore center Vince Hinostroza has been a catalyst as well, dishing out 21 assists and totaling 25 points on the year.

“When Russo is on our power play, he likes to be a guy that’s a shooter, and [Hinostroza] likes to be the guy who has the puck,” Lucia said. “Once [Coach Jackson] separated those two, I felt like each guy kind of runs his own power play.”

Irish sophomore center Vince Hinostroza shields the puck from a UConn defender during Notre Dame's  3-3 tie Jan. 16.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish sophomore center Vince Hinostroza shields the puck from a UConn defender during Notre Dame’s 3-3 tie Jan. 16.

For most of the season, the Irish had used Lucia, Hinostroza, Russo and two defensemen — junior Andy Ryan and freshman Jordan Gross — on their first power play unit. Despite their individual production, they didn’t seem to be gelling.

“You know, early on in the year, there were so many games that if we would have got a few power play goals, we would have won,” junior center and team captain Steven Fogarty said.

Before playing Western Michigan on Jan. 10, Notre Dame had posted a 5.8 percent success rate on the power play. Now, says Fogarty, the team feels like they have one of the best power plays in college hockey.

But figuring out the power play has not necessarily translated to on-ice success for the Irish. Notre Dame is 2-4-1 over their last seven games, now struggling to generate offense when it is at even strength. In last Friday’s loss to New Hampshire, the Irish scored just two goals, both on the power play.

“[The power play is] maybe the one shining part of our game right now,” Jackson said.

Still, Jackson said he knew all it would take was a tweak or two for his team’s power play to jump from the bottom of hockey to one of the best recently.

“We have too much ability to be where we were,” Jackson said.

The Irish travel to Orono, Maine, this weekend for a two-game set against Maine. The puck drops both nights at 7:05 p.m. at Alfond Arena.

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About Brian Plamondon

Brian is a senior History major. He is a Maryland native that has been to 16 different countries including Italy, where he studied abroad. He loves all things hockey, especially the Washington Capitals. He's just doing this so he won't get fined.

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