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Irish travel to face first place Miami

Justin Schuver | Friday, February 6, 2004

Notre Dame has made a habit of relishing in the David role this season. This weekend they’ll face another Goliath.

The Irish (13-9-4, 9-8-3 in the CCHA) travel to Oxford, Ohio, to face first place Miami this season. The RedHawks (16-9-3, 13-5-2 in the CCHA) are currently No. 7 in both national college hockey polls.

“To play the first place team in your conference at this point of the season is wonderful,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “We both play a similar style – a real upbeat, up-tempo brand of hockey. It should be a tremendous series.”

Boston College, Maine and Wisconsin are three top-five teams that have already fallen to Notre Dame this season. For Miami to become the fourth, Notre Dame will have to defeat a RedHawks team on a five-game unbeaten streak, including a sweep of traditional powerhouse Michigan State last weekend.

“I think that’s why you schedule a tough non-conference schedule, is for situations like this,” Poulin said. “I mean, Miami is the best team in the conference right now. I know that they claim they don’t get much respect, but I know there’s not one person in our locker room who doesn’t respect Miami.”

The RedHawks currently sit in first place in the CCHA with 28 points, seven points ahead of the seventh place Irish. Notre Dame sits just one point behind Ohio State and Western Michigan for fifth place, and two points behind third-place Michigan State and Alaska Fairbanks.

Notre Dame earned three-of-four points against Alaska Fairbanks last weekend, defeating the Nanooks 3-2 on Friday and tying 2-2 Saturday. The Irish have two games in hand on Alaska Fairbanks and one on Western Michigan.

“From top to bottom, this is as competitive a league as I’ve seen,” Poulin said. “The group in the middle that’s vying for home ice advantage in the playoffs – they’re all right there close to each other. Even the teams in the weaker half of the league are good teams that can beat anyone.”

The Irish will face a Miami team set on revenge for last season, when Notre Dame knocked the RedHawks out of the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The Irish fell behind in game one of the three-game series, dropping a 4-2 decision in Oxford on Mar. 14, but goalie Morgan Cey and the rest of the team rebounded to collect 1-0 and 5-0 shutouts over the final two games.

Notre Dame advanced to the CCHA Super Six in Detroit, despite being the lower ranked seed (No. 7 to Miami’s No. 6) in the first round and having to play on the road.

Special teams will likely play a large part in this weekend’s series, with the Irish penalty kill currently on a three game (14 straight kills) streak. Miami boasts one of the top power play units in the CCHA, connecting at a 21.2 percent clip, and it will be imperative for the Irish to stifle that unit.

“This is the traditional clash of offense versus defense,” Poulin said. “But the best defense against a good power play is to not take penalties. The discipline is a real factor because when you’re killing three or four power plays rather than seven or eight, you’re a lot fresher and you make better decisions on the ice.”

The Irish offense that averages 2.73 goals per game.

“No matter where you play, scoring first is always a big part of getting a win. It’s important to come out and get some confidence, and get your team up on its toes and moving in the right direction,” Poulin said.

Face-off for each game is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.