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Hockey

Notre Dame rebounds to win series finale against UConn

| Monday, October 31, 2016

After struggling to finish offensively Thursday night, the Irish scored early in the first period and never looked back Friday night, putting six past UConn en-route to a convincing 6-2 win to escape the sweep and break out of a three-game winless streak.

“I thought first period was a little, you know, tentative, but I thought after that we played real well,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said after the game. “I thought it was a good balance. We had good shifts from each line. I was even more pleased after the first period with the play of our defense.

“I think that to me, that’s going to be the key for us, those guys making simple decisions and getting us out of zones so we can utilize our speed. And I thought they were going back a lot with the puck, and then after that, they really did a good job.”

After UConn freshman goalie Adam Huska made 47 saves on Thursday to stymie the Irish offense, senior Rob Nichols got the start in net Friday night for the Huskies (3-2-3, 1-1-0 Hockey East), but he didn’t have the same success. On the first power play of the night for the Irish (4-3-1, 1-1-0), sophomore forward Joe Wegwerth accidentally blocked junior forward Anders Bjork’s shot in front of the net, but then he collected the puck, turned and whipped a shot past Nichols to give the Irish an early advantage.

“I thought it was good for our power play — it was good for our bench,” Jackson said. “Because [Thursday], when they scored that first goal, I thought there was a little bit of a letdown or a gasp, but we responded. We had as many or more good chances last night as tonight. The biggest difference was that we got the timely goals that helped us to get the lead and finish it off after they had a little bit of a spurt there in the third period.”

As the game went on, the Irish continued to find their offensive rhythm in the game, following their fast start with four more goals to distance themselves for good. Freshman forward Cam Morrison scored early in the second period to double the Irish lead. Junior forward Connor Hurley scored early in the third to give the Irish their third goal. Sophomore forward Jack Jenkins followed suit with his first goal of the season just under nine minutes into the period, and Bjork added a fifth goal 41 seconds later to put the game out of reach.

Jackson said he was pleased with the offensive production, especially after a tough outing Thursday, when the Irish created chances but couldn’t finish them.

“Well, I thought we [had scoring chances Thursday], too — I mean we had a lot of speed on them, and we didn’t capitalize,” he said. “I thought we did a better job of creating traffic at the net, creating situations similar to what they did to [Irish junior goaltender Cal Petersen] yesterday — you know, when they’re throwing the puck to the net from different angles and just being more aggressive, getting inside body position at the net — so that was part of the reason why we scored a few more goals.”

Led by the play of junior goalie Cal Petersen, who made his 58th consecutive start, and junior defenseman Luke Ripley, the Irish defense was stout throughout the game, closing down to keep the Huskies off the board for most of the contest. Although UConn scored two late consolation goals, Bjork added his second goal of the night in the closing minutes by skating up the right, cutting across the front of crease and beating Nichols shortside, closing out the 6-2 win with an exclamation point and his second four-point game of the year.

Overall Jackson said he was happy with how his team responded from the loss.

“If we keep using our speed and utilizing our speed against teams, it can wear them down, but you have to do it consistently,” he said. “If our defensemen get the puck up to the forwards, whether it’s on the break-out or whether it’s on transition, that gives us a lot more speed up the ice and putting pressure on the opposing team’s defense. That’s what I thought we did better in the second [and] third periods tonight.”

The Irish have two weeks to prepare for their next test, a trip to Boston to square off against Northeastern for games on Nov. 12 and 13.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby is a junior PLS/Economics double major from Smithtown, New York.

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