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Hockey

Irish to play host to No. 11 Friars

| Friday, February 13, 2015

Notre Dame will play No. 11 Providence this weekend at Compton Family Ice Arena in a pair of matchups that could be crucial in determining the team’s postseason fate.

Notre Dame (12-14-4, 7-5-4 Hockey East) enters this weekend’s series coming off a successful trip to Maine last weekend. With a tie Friday and a victory Saturday, the Irish earned three points in conference standings.

With just six regular-season games remaining, the Irish find themselves in fifth place in the conference, trailing fourth-place Providence (17-9-2, 9-6-1) by just one point. The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the Hockey East tournament once the regular season wraps up.

Irish junior left wing Sam Herr crashes the net during Notre Dame’s 3-3 tie with UConn on Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena. Herr has tallied eight goals and six assists on the season for the Irish.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish junior left wing Sam Herr crashes the net during Notre Dame’s 3-3 tie with UConn on Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena. Herr has tallied eight goals and six assists on the season for the Irish.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said his team cannot get too caught up in the standings, and instead he said he views this weekend as an opportunity to play well against a nationally-ranked team.

“Obviously, we want to finish in the top four, but the most important thing for me is making sure we’re playing our best hockey heading into the playoffs,” Jackson said.

Notre Dame’s next six games are against three nationally-ranked opponents: No. 11 Providence, No. 3 Boston University and No. 10 Boston College.

Four of those six games will be at Compton Family Ice Arena, and while Jackson said this is a clear advantage, he noted the Irish have struggled at times on their home ice.

“It’s a little easier to play at home than on the road obviously, but we have not come out as well as we should’ve on Friday nights this season, “ Jackson said.

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo weaves through the UConn offensive zone during the two teams’ 3-3 tie Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena. Russo leads all Irish defensemen with 25 points this season.Michael Yu | The Observer

Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo weaves through the UConn offensive zone during the two teams’ 3-3 tie Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena. Russo leads all Irish defensemen with 25 points this season.

Jackson said there are two areas in which the Irish must excel to have success during this tough stretch: goaltending and possessing the puck at the blue lines.

He added the goaltending percentage for the team must be at the 90-percent mark for the Irish to be successful during this period.

“There’s no question that goaltending is going to be the most important thing for us in the next six games,” Jackson said. “We have to get nine out of 10 saves on every given night if we’re going to do anything during this stretch run.”

During this week of practice, Jackson said he gave the team an extra day off for some rest and more time for schoolwork.

“It was a difficult academic week with a lot of exams going on, so we took Tuesday off,” he said. “I hope that helps them being able to get their academic work taken care off before we get out there Friday.”

Talking about the Irish opponent this weekend, Jackson said Providence is an exceptional defensive team with a tough goaltender, along with high quality forwards and defenseman.

“They clamp down pretty tight, and they’re good on transition,” Jackson said. “They have good defensive numbers, but they’re not just a defensive team. If you turn pucks over against them, they’re going to capitalize.”

Providence allows a little more than two goals per game (2.04), and Friars junior goaltender Jon Gillies boasts an impressive .933 save percentage.

Irish junior left wing Mario Lucia scans the ice Nov. 21 during Notre Dame’s  2-2 tie with UMass-Lowell at Compton Family Ice Arena.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish junior left wing Mario Lucia scans the ice Nov. 21 during Notre Dame’s 2-2 tie with UMass-Lowell at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Junior left wing Mario Lucia, Notre Dame’s leading goal scorer, said it’s a must that the Irish put a lot of shots on goal against Gillies, and he added that the Irish special teams units will play a large factor this weekend.

“We just have to focus on getting pucks to the net, and special teams are going to be huge this weekend,” Lucia said. “If we win the special teams battle, I think we’ll have a good chance of winning the game.”

Lucia also said playing at home will be a big advantage for the Irish in this last month and that the team must “utilize our fans” during this stretch run.

“Having that element of the crowd cheering you on and getting into the game, that helps a lot, and when you have a full crowd in here, it’s intimidating to the other team and helps our guys,” Lucia said.

Notre Dame will square off against Providence on Friday and Saturday, with the puck dropping at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 8:05 p.m. Saturday.

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