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Hockey

Irish enter final third of season with series against New Hampshire

| Friday, January 20, 2017

After splitting road series against Michigan Tech and Merrimack, the No. 14 Irish return home this weekend to face New Hampshire in a Hockey East matchup. The Wildcats sit fifth in the Hockey East standings, one place above Notre Dame and Irish head coach Jeff Jackson stressed the importance of this home stand for the Irish.

“Obviously it’s a huge series, they’re a point ahead of us in the standings and they’re right behind us in the NCAA rankings too,” Jackson said. “They’re a much improved team from last year. Last year we went in there and actually beat them twice, which is not an easy thing to do in their building, so I’m sure they’re coming back with the same idea in mind. But they have one of the best offenses in the country, one of the best power plays in the country, certainly a couple of the top offensive players in the country, so they are a lot to handle defensively, and they’ve had a good year compared to where everybody picked them, and I think that’s given them motivation to come out of the gates really strong.”

Sophomore defenseman Dennis Gilbert surveys the ice during Notre Dame's 4-1 victory over UMass Lowell on Nov. 18 at Compton Family Ice Arena.Ann Curtis | The Observer

Sophomore defenseman Dennis Gilbert surveys the ice during Notre Dame’s 4-1 victory over UMass Lowell on Nov. 18 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

This is the first game back at Compton Family Ice Arena for Notre Dame since the Irish (13-8-2, 6-4-1 Hockey East) travelled to Michigan Tech and Merrimack over break. In both two-game series, Notre Dame went 1-1, and for Jackson, consistency remains his team’s biggest struggle this year.

“The biggest thing that we’ve been talking about for a couple months is the consistency of playing night-in and night-out,” Jackson said. “Merrimack was a tough, gritty team, just like Michigan Tech was a tough, gritty team, and we matched their grit on Friday night both nights, both series, and Saturday night we didn’t. We need to learn how to be dialed in at that same level on the second night of a two-game series. Our problem earlier in the year was the first night, and now we are doing a better job of coming out strong on Friday nights, and then Saturday nights the other team amps it up a little bit and we need to find a way to match that.”

New Hampshire (11-8-3, 6-2-2) is coming into the matchup this weekend with one of the deepest offenses in the Hockey East, led by senior forward Tyler Kelleher. Kelleher leads the league and is third in the country in points, with 40 from 14 goals and 26 assists. Jackson stressed matching the Wildcats at every step.

“[Defensively] it’s got to be a collective effort, because if he doesn’t break you down one-on-one he’s going to make a play to find somebody else, so it’s not just going to be the focus on him, it’s going to be the focus away from the puck as well,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be a matter of us matching the depth both offensively and defensively, because we want to try and capitalize when they make mistakes as well.”

Notre Dame sits 18th in the NCAA PairWise rankings, currently on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. The Irish also suffered a blow defensively at Merrimack, indefinitely losing sophomore defenseman Bobby Nardella last Friday to injury. But Jackson reiterated that the team is staying focused, and looking to get a run together as the season enters its final third, starting with New Hampshire.

“We’ve put ourselves in kind of a tough position, we have to take care of business coming up here,” Jackson said. “I don’t need to let them know, I’m sure they already know. Our most important focus has to be playing UNH on Friday night right now, because if we don’t worry about the next game, then the games down the road don’t mean anything. Frankly, we need to have success here at home, because it’s hard to win two games on the road, no matter where you play in Hockey East, it’s not easy.”

The two game series begins Friday night at 7:35 p.m. at Compton, with Saturday’s contest starting at 7:05 p.m.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

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

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