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Hockey

Notre Dame, Providence to square off for Hockey East lead

| Friday, February 19, 2016

First-place Notre Dame will head to Providence this weekend to take on the defending national champions for a pair of games with both Hockey East and NCAA tournament implications.

The No. 7 Irish (18-5-7, 14-2-2 Hockey East) are coming off a home sweep of Maine last weekend and will look to secure a first-round bye in the Hockey East tournament with a strong showing against the No. 5 Friars (21-5-4, 12-3-3), who come into the weekend in third place in the conference.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson spoke highly of Providence and said the Friars will prepare the Irish for the level of competition they will see in the postseason.

“I think they’re a very well balanced team,” Jackson said. “I think the biggest question going into the year was how they were going to replace [former goaltender Jon] Gillies, but they’ve certainly done that with [junior goaltender Nick] Ellis, because he’s been a stalwart back there for them. They’ve got a great defense, a really good defense. And they have a lot of seniors. It’s a senior-laden team. That’s a big part of it, the experience of what they went through last year has certainly given them a lot of confidence, and they play that way.”

The next two weekends offer significant challenges to the Irish, as they will face both Providence and No. 9 Boston University, but Jackson focused on the success his team has found recently, going 8-1-0 in its last nine games.

“I credit (our recent success) to the upperclassmen, to the seniors,” Jackson said. “They’ve done an exceptional job of leading this team. Two-thirds of our lineup is sophomores and freshmen. They provide enthusiasm because they’re young and excited, and they’re all still trying to sow their oats. So the upperclassmen have to keep that in check a little bit. I give credit to the leadership. I think that they’ve done a good job of keeping guys in check when they need to and also getting guys going when they’re not.”

Irish senior center Thomas DiPauli skates down the ice with the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 victory over Maine on Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena. DiPauli recorded an assist in the second period.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish senior center Thomas DiPauli skates down the ice with the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 victory over Maine on Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena. DiPauli recorded an assist in the second period.

Sophomore center Jake Evans, who had a goal and three assists against Maine last Saturday, also said he wanted to keep the focus on what Notre Dame has to do rather than worrying about what challenges Providence will bring to the table.

“We’re pretty comfortable right now,” Evans said. “I think things are going pretty well. We’ve gotta stay focused on our game plan and stick to our game and not let them dictate the play. I think the biggest thing for us is getting off to a good start.

“We have a young team, obviously. And I think some of the freshmen and sophomores are picking it up and getting used to some of the games, especially with the road crowd getting in your head a little bit. But I think now we’re definitely developing as a team and sticking to the game plan, not letting the other team get a better start than us.”

Sophomore center Jake Evans passes the puck during Notre Dame’s  5-1 win over Maine at Compton Family Ice Arena on Saturday. Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Sophomore center Jake Evans passes the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 win over Maine at Compton Family Ice Arena on Saturday.

Evans was one of eight Irish players to score over the weekend against Maine, and that depth has been key to the team’s success, he said.

“We have such a skilled team where anyone can chip in on any night, which is probably the biggest thing going forward,” Evans said.

The Irish will attempt to keep their slim lead in the conference Friday night when they travel to Schneider Arena to take on the Friars.

Notre Dame will then close out its regular season when it returns to Compton Family Ice Arena for a two-game series against Boston University (17-9-4, 10-5-3) the following weekend.

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