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No. 4 Wisconsin awaits Irish

Justin Schuver | Friday, January 16, 2004

The Irish hope the third time will be the charm when they face yet another ranked opponent in a grueling non-conference schedule when they meet No. 4 Wisconsin in a two-game road series this weekend.

Notre Dame has already knocked off two ranked non-CCHA opponents this year on the road, beating then-No. 1 Boston College 1-0 Oct. 24, and defeating then-No. 3 Maine Dec. 28.

The Irish are actually facing their fourth ranked non-conference foe of the season this weekend, with the team losing to then-No. 14 Cornell Dec. 27.

Irish coach Dave Poulin sees many positives in playing a difficult schedule.

“We’ve played a grueling non-conference schedule and have picked up some big wins,” he said. “I think this sets us up terrifically going into the second half of the season. These are also terrific games to try and get those at-large bids for the NCAA tournament.”

Notre Dame currently sits in third place in the CCHA, with a conference record of 8-6-2 and 18 points, only one point behind Michigan and Miami (Ohio). Following the Wisconsin series, the Irish play 12 straight conference games to finish up the season.

The Irish come into the Wisconsin series with a losing record against the Badgers, 15-36-6. However, the Irish made history on Oct. 2, 1998, when the team spoiled the opening of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center with a 2-1 victory over the Badgers.

Notre Dame will also come into the Kohl Center feeling confident, having collected a 3-1 record in its last four games, including the victory over Maine. The lone Irish loss in that span came at the hands of Bowling Green, who defeated Notre Dame in a 5-4 overtime heartbreaker Jan. 9.

The Irish got revenge on the Falcons a day later with freshman goaltender David Brown making 32 saves in a 3-0 shutout win over Bowling Green.

Freshmen Jason Paige and Josh Sciba and senior Brett Lebda scored goals in the victory. Paige and Sciba also scored goals in the 5-4 overtime loss.

“Jason Paige has really been a steady defensive force for us all year, but he’s also scored some nice goals,” Poulin said. “Josh Sciba may have as good a set of hands as anyone on this team, and he’s going to score a lot of goals for us.”

One reason for Notre Dame’s success this year has been a stout defense, allowing an average of 2.42 goals per game. That defense is backed by two solid netminders in junior Morgan Cey and Brown.

Each goalie has at least two shutouts this season (Cey with two, Brown with four), and Brown has the third lowest overall goals against average (2.36) and second highest save percentage (.920) in the CCHA. Cey would also be ranked highly in both lists, with an overall GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .944, but he has not played in enough games to be counted on the official statistics.

“I think the confidence is really high among our goalies,” Poulin said. “When you have two guys back there, I think they help each other. They drive each other, and I know that each of them wants to play every game, but they know the most important thing for the team is [a win] and they play that way.”

The Irish face a dangerous foe in the Badgers, who sent three players to the U.S. Junior National Team that won a gold medal in Finland in December. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves was also the coach of that team.