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Irish look to finish strong on road

Justin Schuver | Friday, March 5, 2004

They’re on the home stretch – on the road.The Irish (17-11-4, 13-10-3 in the CCHA) face the Lakers in a two-game series this weekend, as Notre Dame attempts to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the CCHA playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.Notre Dame currently has 29 points and sits in a tie for fifth place with Alaska Fairbanks. They are one point behind fourth place Ohio State and three points behind third place Michigan State.The Irish need only one point to eliminate Western Michigan from contention for the sixth home-ice spot for the CCHA playoffs.Notre Dame realizes that it is also competing for a possible NCAA berth, however, and will certainly be focusing on Lake Superior State just as hard as the team focused on last weekend’s sweep of then-No. 4 Michigan.”We’re already thinking about [Lake Superior],” coach Dave Poulin said after the Irish defeated the Wolverines 5-2 Saturday night. “We’ve already discussed it as a team.”The Lakers enter this weekend’s series with a record of 6-15-5 in the CCHA, placing them in 11th place in the 12-member CCHA. That record is somewhat deceiving, however, as the Lakers have gone 2-1-2 over their last five games and tied the Irish in a 2-2 game earlier this season at the Joyce Center on Nov. 22.Much like the Irish, the Lakers have been bolstered by the play of a freshman netminder who has collected some of the best stats in the nation.Rookie Jeff Jakaitis is in the top three of the CCHA in GAA with a 2.15, compared to Notre Dame’s David Brown, who leads that category with a 2.03 GAA. Jakaitis’ save percentage is also remarkably close to Brown’s, with the two goalies collecting a .932 and .933 save percentage, respectively.Although he has struggled some this season, Laker backup goalie Matt Violin is an NHL draft choice, so Notre Dame’s opponent this weekend has some considerable depth in net – something which was not the case with Michigan, who was forced to use their unseasoned backup after an injury in Friday’s game to No. 1-starter Al Montoya.Unfortunately for the Lakers, they also have the lowest-scoring offense in the CCHA, which does a lot towards explaining Jakaitis’ record of 4-7-4. Hitting at only a 2.09 goals per game clip, the Lakers are nearly an entire goal behind Notre Dame’s 8th place offence with 2.81 goals per game. Not a single player on the Lakers’ roster has more than 20 points so far this year.The team’s leading scorer is forward Dominic Osman with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists), followed shortly behind by Bo Cheesman with 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) and Trent Campbell with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). Notre Dame faces the Lakers Friday and Saturday with face-off scheduled for 7:05 p.m. each night.