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Hockey

After splitting series, No. 8 Notre Dame looks for consistency against Nebraska-Omaha

| Thursday, October 26, 2017

After splitting a series with Sacred Heart last weekend, the Irish look to bounce back starting tomorrow night with a series at home against Nebraska-Omaha.

No. 8 Notre Dame (3-2-1) has struggled in their past two series, winning only one out of four games, albeit against strong opponents. For head coach Jeff Jackson, the key for the Irish is to develop more consistency.

Junior forward Joe Wegworth pushes the puck during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Sacred Heart on Oct. 19 at Compton Family Ice Arena.Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer

Junior forward Joe Wegworth pushes the puck during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Sacred Heart on Oct. 19 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

“I obviously wasn’t pleased with our performance last Thursday [against Sacred Heart],” he said.“I thought it was much better on Friday. For me it’s just a matter of us making sure we are mentally engaged and prepared for every game regardless of who the opponent is.”

On top of that, the Irish have suffered a multitude of injuries to key players like junior forward Joe Wegwerth, who will not play this week.

But in the Mavericks (2-1-1), Notre Dame faces a familiar foe. The Irish were formerly a member of the CCHA, Omaha’s conference, and the two teams have faced off a total of 32 times to date, the most recent in 2012, when the Irish topped the Mavericks by a score of 3-2 to win the Ice Breaker Tournament Championship in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We haven’t played them in a few years, and it’s a different looking program than it was a few years back, especially being in the National Conference,” Jackson said on the Mavericks. “They play a high tempo game offensively, they’ve got some really good forwards up front, they’ve got a good goaltender … They certainly, in that conference, are a team that is going to compete and be successful … I’m sure it’s going to be an extremely challenging series.”

“… They’re going to challenge us defensively, so we’re going to have to take care of the puck first and foremost, and not put them in a position to transition too much, because if they do, they are pretty skilled… So, we’re going to have to defend well, but I think in order for us to be successful we are going to have to do a good job with the puck.”

While Notre Dame has played every game at home so far this season, the Irish have had low attendance so far in Compton Family Ice Arena, and while football season and fall break have certainly played a factor, Jackson and the team know how important the atmosphere is in home games.

“The building has been kind of quiet the first half of the year. The band has done a great job, but we haven’t gotten great crowds, and I think that can influence our guys’ engagement in the game,” Jackson said. “It’s always easy to play in this place when it’s full,” Jackson said.

Senior captain Jake Evans added his take as well.

“The crowds have been pretty good this year, but sometimes it gets a bit discouraging looking up and seeing those empty seats,” he said. “Being young guys, we like to build off the energy of this crowd, and off the band and off the students. It’s definitely an advantage when the building is loud and it’s intimidating for the other team to hear 5,000 fans screaming up there. As a home team, you just build off the fans and want to work hard for them and do well for them.”

Having played a few games thus far, the team has already played a number of tough games, including against defending national champions Denver. For Jackson, the Irish still have a long way to go.

“I think this team needs to get back to the early years we’ve had with this program. That is, we will need to be very good in our execution of our system and very good defensively” Jackson said. “I think we have a lot more competitive guys than we did the last couple of years and we need to use that to our advantage, but the competitiveness is only going to be a factor if we execute, because it’s hard to use that competitiveness if you don’t do the right thing with the puck and create situations where you can use that physicality or that competitiveness.”

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