Maine offers new challenge for ND
Hunter McDaniel | Friday, February 12, 2016
With just six regular season games left before the start of the Hockey East tournament, Notre Dame has suddenly found itself in a tie with Boston College for first place in the conference.
The No. 8 Irish (16-5-7, 12-2-2 Hockey East) welcome conference foe Maine to campus for a pair of games this weekend, before a tough sprint to the finish in the following two weeks that will include two games against No. 5 Providence and No. 7 Boston University each.
The Black Bears (7-17-6, 4-10-2) have struggled in one of the toughest conferences in the nation this season, currently sitting just two points clear of Massachusetts for last place. However, Maine is far more competitive squad than its record indicates, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said.
“[Maine is] doing a lot better here in the second half,” Jackson said. “I think a big reason for it is [redshirt junior] Matt Morris is giving them pretty consistent goaltending here in the second half. He played extremely well against Providence last weekend. They took Providence to overtime Friday night. They tied Quinnipiac a few weeks ago. I thought they gave BU all they could handle, and they probably should have beaten BU in the one game that I saw.”
Jackson said the Black Bears’ effort will present the biggest challenge for the Irish this weekend.
“They’ll be one of the hardest working teams we face this year, and we’ll have to match their work ethic,” Jackson said. “And they transition well. [Vermont head coach Red Gendron’s] a good coach, and they’ve got some dangerous players. We just have to be more concerned about us and making sure that our work ethic is at a high level and our execution is good.”
The temptation for the Irish to look past this weekend to a road trip to Providence (19-5-4, 10-3-3) and a season-ending home series with Boston University (16-8-4, 9-4-3) will be strong but is something his team must avoid, Jackson said.
“If we [look past Maine], we’re taking the risk of losing one of our goals, which is trying to be at the top of our conference,” Jackson said. “We talked about it early in the week. I asked them the question in the locker room: ‘Looking forward, who’s the most dangerous team we’re going to face?’ And they said Maine. So they answered the question in the right way, and that’s what I was hoping they’d say.
“I think they understand the importance of Friday night’s game. It’s just as important as last Saturday’s or next Friday’s. We just have to stay focused on being in the moment.”
Sophomore defenseman Jordan Gross, who was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for his four-point performance against Vermont over the weekend, agreed with his head coach.
“We all know how important every single night is,” Gross said. “The points right now, because we want to get into the top four, we need to keep getting two points every night. We can’t do that if we’re looking ahead to next weekend. We just have to keep focused on Maine this Friday.”
Gross said the team knows Maine will not be intimidated despite facing the higher-ranked Irish on the road.
“I haven’t really seen much of them yet, but I know that they have played a couple of teams very tough in the past few weeks, so we’re expecting a good challenge this weekend,” he said.
The Irish kick off their second-to-last home series of the regular season against the Black Bears at 6:40 pm on Friday night at Compton Family Ice Arena.