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Irish ready to take on Wildcats

Justin Schuver | Friday, October 29, 2004

It just doesn’t get any easier for the Irish.Notre Dame is set to face its fourth ranked opponent of the young season this weekend when No. 15 Northern Michigan travels to the Joyce Center for a two-game CCHA series with the Irish.”These kinds of games force you to up your level,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “We are practicing better and faster; the intensity has increased in practices because the guys have seen how we have to play in order to be successful.”Notre Dame will also be looking to continue its positive momentum after defeating then-No. 1 Boston College Oct. 22 by the score of 3-2. Notre Dame’s upset win knocked the Eagles to No. 2 this week, and moved Minnesota Duluth to the No. 1 spot, prompting Poulin to jokingly say that the Irish are “the only team in the country that’s played two number one teams already.”One crucial part of Notre Dame’s success against the Eagles was the play of senior goalie Morgan Cey. Cey was rewarded for his 50-save performance with a bevy of weekly awards, including being named the CCHA goaltender of the week and the USCHO/ITECH defensive player of the week.”It’s all starting to come together for Morgan,” Poulin said. “I think his freshman year he came in with a lot of raw talent but wasn’t quite as strong as he needed to be, and had to take some time to feel that out. Sophomore year the team struggled in front of him. Junior year he had to deal with injuries, and I think the culmination of all the hard work he’s done is really starting to pay off now.”Cey’s play has been especially impressive at home, where the goalie has a tie against Minnesota Duluth also to his credit. The Irish as a whole seem to play better at the Joyce Center, and Poulin hopes to use his team’s home ice this weekend as an advantage.”We’ve created a really nice advantage in this building over the years,” he said. “We’re comfortable here and get to practice here everyday – a lot of teams aren’t able to practice in their buildings every day. We’ve been able to maximize what we have to work with.”Among the players who played well at home last week was sophomore defenseman Wes O’Neill, who Poulin singled out as one of the best players so far this season. The stats back up the coach’s assessment – O’Neill leads the team in scoring with five points [one goal and four assists] and tied for second on the team with a plus-1 rating through the first five games.”He keeps getting better and better,” Poulin said about O’Neill. “I thought the BC game was one of the best games he’s played in an Irish uniform, and he’s played some good ones.”Defense is a key part of Northern Michigan’s team, as well. The Wildcat defense has held opponents to just 1.75 goals per game, with its goalies amassing a combined .949 save percentage.Defenseman Nathan Oystrick is considered one of the top blueliners in the country, and leads the team with a plus-2 rating. Offensively the Wildcats are led by Jamie Milam’s six points (two goals, four assists).Coming into the season, Northern Michigan’s biggest question mark was in net after the graduation of workhorse Craig Kowalski. But senior Tuomas Tarkki and freshman Bill Zaniboni have each been impressive between the pipes so far.”[Northern Michigan] is fast, skilled and good,” Poulin said. “Their strength is really at the defense position and we have to get to the defense and force them to get rid of the puck early because all of their defensemen can really handle the puck well.”The Irish face the Wildcats tonight at 7:35 p.m. at the Joyce Center, and face Northern Michigan Saturday with the face-off scheduled for 7:05 p.m.