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Hockey: Irish travel to face offensive-minded Spartans

Justin Schuver | Friday, November 7, 2003

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? That question will be answered this weekend as the Irish travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State in a two-game CCHA road series.

The Irish (5-2-0, 4-2-0 in the CCHA) play the part of the object, ranking first in the CCHA in team defense with a miniscule 1.71 goals per game average. By contrast, the Spartans (5-3-0, 4-2-0) lead the CCHA in offense with 4.00 goals per game.

“Our goaltending has been really good so far, but there’s also four seniors who play on defense,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “It anchors things and makes things much better there. I think it’s kind of an interesting fact being that we’d go into this series being the best defensive team and them the best offensive team.

“I think if you turn the clock back it’s usually very different. They’re usually the best defensive team in the league.”

Both teams come into this weekend’s series on a four-game winning streak. The Spartans faced last year’s CCHA regular season champion Ferris State in a home-and-home series last weekend, outscoring the Bulldogs 12-2 in the sweep.

Part of the reason for Notre Dame’s early defensive success has been the play of freshman goaltender David Brown. Brown comes into the series holding a shutout streak of 186 minutes, 15 seconds – an Irish record.

Brown’s last shutout occurred this past Friday when Notre Dame defeated Nebraska-Omaha at home by the score of 2-0.

The freshman was named CCHA Rookie of the Week for his efforts, the second time this year Brown has received the honor. He currently leads the CCHA in overall GAA (1.15) and save percentage (.964).

Junior Morgan Cey, who was the team’s No. 1 goaltender last season, also played well in his first game since returning from offseason surgery. Against Nebraska-Omaha last Thursday, Cey stopped 29 of 31 shots in Notre Dame’s 4-2 victory.

Poulin said that he plans to start Cey in the first game of the Michigan State series and Brown in the second. In his career, Cey has a 1-2-1 record against the Spartans with a .943 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average.

While Brown receives most of the accolades, this year’s Irish rookie class has quietly put together an impressive start to the season.

Among the freshmen class’ contributions – forward Michael Bartlett has collected three points (two goals and an assist), defenseman Wes O’Neill has two points (a goal and an assist), forwards Matt Williams-Kovacs and Jason Paige each have two assists and left wing Josh Sciba leads the team with a 68.8 percent faceoff win rate.

“All the guys I’m very pleased with,” Poulin said. “You look at the potential of this class and the depth of this class, and it’s great.

“It’s something where every single guy has contributed in some way this year. They’re adding a really nice dimension now – some of it’s role-oriented and situation-oriented – but they’re doing a really nice job.”

The Spartans have their own share of young talent as well, however. Freshman forward Tommy Goebel and junior forward Jim Slater lead the team with seven goals each. Slater also sits atop the CCHA leaderboard with 15 points.

“They’re a team-based offense,” Poulin said. “I think even when you have a young man like Slater putting up a ton of points, I think their offense is still a balanced offense.

Freshman goaltender Dominic Vicari has done a good job in net so far, filling in occasionally for Matt Migliaccio – the team’s No. 1 goaltender a year ago.

Vicari is seventh in the CCHA with a 2.33 goals against average and has a 2-1-0 record with one shutout. The junior Migliaccio has allowed three goals a game with a 2-1-0 record as well. Migliaccio has a slightly better save percentage, however – .898 to Vicari’s .866.

One reason for Michigan State’s average defensive stats may be a relatively-green back line. Joe Markusen is the only senior on a Spartan defense that includes five freshmen and two sophomores.

By contrast, the Irish feature a defense that includes four seniors, two juniors, and one sophomore and one freshman.

“Our defense has really done a great job stopping things like second shots and shots from the deep slot,” Poulin said. “We’re taking a lot of pride in our defense right now and we have to keep it going.”

The Irish face the Spartans Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.