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Hockey: Icers set to battle Badgers

Justin Schuver | Friday, January 21, 2005

The Irish have one more chance to gain some positive momentum before going into the home stretch of the CCHA season.Notre Dame (5-14-5) takes on non-conference foe No. 5 Wisconsin (17-6-1) at the Joyce Center Friday, and finishes up the weekend series with a game against the Badgers at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.The Irish come into Friday’s game having lost their most recent match, 6-2, against Michigan Tech in Green Bay, Wis., on Tuesday night. Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin said his team missed a chance to gain some positive momentum against a Michigan Tech squad that had only won two games before facing the Irish.”We were really disappointed,” Poulin said. “The reason that you schedule non-conference games is to give you a thrust, like we did in late January last year to help us get into the NCAA tournament. We didn’t respond very well at all Tuesday night to that opportunity.”The Irish allowed three power play goals to the Huskies in Tuesday’s game, in a performance eerily similar to several others throughout the season. Notre Dame’s 80.4 percent penalty killing rate is currently the worst in the CCHA – and a far cry from last season’s conference-leading 87.3 percent.The Irish will need to fix their killing woes quickly, with the Badgers currently connecting at a 24.3 percent clip – third-best in the nation.Wisconsin comes into this weekend’s games after sweeping Alaska Anchorage in Madison, Wis., last weekend by scores of 6-1 and 3-2. The Badgers are currently in first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.Notre Dame and Wisconsin were both members of the WCHA from the 1971-72 season to the 1980-81 season, and Poulin was anxious to renew the series between the former conference rivals.”There’s a lot of people in this area with fond memories of the Wisconsin games,” he said. “The crowds they brought in, the great teams we had, the great rivalry we had. I played for [Wisconsin coach Mike] Eaves when he was an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, and we had been talking for a while about getting the series going again.”You can benefit a great deal from playing a good team at this point in the year.”In its games against Wisconsin last season, both at Madison, the Irish came away with a 2-2 tie and a 3-1 win over the fourth-ranked Badgers. This season, the story is much different as Wisconsin comes into the Joyce Center as one of the top teams in the country, while Notre Dame sits in last place in the CCHA.Poulin says his team still has a chance to make some noise late in the season, however.”You’re playing one of the top teams in the country – what better way to send the message that you’re still alive and kicking,” he said. “That’s what I told our guys, we’re still going to be a force down the stretch – don’t write Notre Dame out. “There’s still 10 conference games to play down the stretch, and we’re going to go out and play hard in every one of them.”The Irish travel to Allstate Arena Saturday to face the Badgers, making it the second game Notre Dame has played in the home of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves. In its last game in Rosemont, Notre Dame dropped a 3-1 decision to Yale on Jan. 18, 2003.Four current members of the Irish – Joe Zurenko, Michael Bartlett, Brian D’Arcy and Dan VeNard – are from the Chicagoland area. Two others, Cory McLean and Chris Trick, played junior hockey in Chicago.”I like the regional atmosphere to these kinds of games,” Poulin said. “The last time we went I think we had about 6,500 fans watching, and I think we’ll get more Saturday. There’s a lot of youth teams in the Chicago area where we recruit, so who knows, there might be some kids in the audience getting their first look at the jersey they might where some day.”Notre Dame faces Wisconsin at the Joyce Center tonight with opening face-off scheduled for 8:05 p.m. The two teams square off Saturday at Allstate Arena at 7:05 p.m. Central Time.