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Sports

ND stays in contention for top-four Hockey East spot

| Wednesday, February 11, 2015

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the outcome of Notre Dame’s season is still very much in doubt.

Sophomore Chad Katunar guards the goal against New Hampshire on Jan. 30. The Irish sit at 12-14-4 overall this season.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer

Sophomore Chad Katunar guards the goal against New Hampshire on Jan. 30. The Irish sit at 12-14-4 overall this season.

Notre Dame (12-14-4, 7-5-4 Hockey East) sits in fifth place in Hockey East, just one point behind this weekend’s opponent, No. 10 Providence. After that, the Irish square off with No. 2 Boston on the road, before concluding their regular season at home against No. 11 Boston College.

If they win a majority of their games, the Irish secure home-ice advantage and a first-round bye in the Hockey East tournament, not to mention all the momentum that comes with getting the best of three teams that are all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament. Lose most of its games, and Notre Dame will be sent back towards the bottom feeders in Hockey East, with their only hope being a miracle run in the tournament.

“If we do well in these next three weekends here we control our own destiny for the playoffs,” junior left winger Mario Lucia said. “We can get a good seed and hopefully get a bye.”

After an up-and-down season, Notre Dame now has a chance to prove itself against three teams that have hovered around the top 10 in the nation all season.

“We have to be able to play against elite level [teams] for the next three weeks,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’re playing three top-10 teams in the country over the next three weeks, and we have to see if we’ve grown.”

Growing pains have been a problem for the Irish all season, who sport a lineup with more freshmen starters than seniors. Lucia said that the young players have to step up in order for the team to succeed down the stretch.

“Whether we’re ready or not is how I look at it,” Lucia said. “But these teams are all in front of us, so if we can win games we can jump up [a few] spots.”

Freshman Anders Bjork tries to knock in a rebound during Notre Dame's 3-3 tie against Connecticut on Jan. 16. Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Freshman Anders Bjork tries to knock in a rebound during Notre Dame’s 3-3 tie against Connecticut on Jan. 16.

Notre Dame has the added advantage of playing four of their six remaining games at home. Jackson doesn’t doubt that it will be easier for his team to play in the comfort of their own building — although the team has struggled at Compton Family Ice Arena this season, sporting a 6-7-1 record.

“We haven’t played the best at home, and we need to have a really good positive experience at home and play well,” Jackson said.

Lucia agreed that being on home ice would be a huge factor for the team in the last few weeks.

“I mean going on the road and stealing games is a lot harder than [winning] in your own building and riding the momentum of your crowd,” Lucia said. “Having that element of the crowd cheering you on and getting into the game helps a lot. And when we have a full crowd in here, it’s intimidating for the other team.”

After evaluating his team throughout the season, Jackson said he knows what will make his team either succeed or fail in these last three series of the regular season.

“It’s going to be all based on our goaltending, our puck possession and probably our special teams,” Jackson said.

After a rocky season to this point, Notre Dame know these games against the Hockey East leaders will define its season, Lucia said.

“Obviously right now [there’s] not a whole lot of room for error,” Lucia said. “Basically our playoffs have started, and we have to be ready for every weekend.”

The Irish begin the stretch run this Friday and Saturday when they host Providence at Compton Family Ice Arena, with action getting under way at 7:35 p.m. and 8:05 p.m., respectively.

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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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