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HOCKEY: Irish in dire need of a win

Justin Schuver | Friday, February 4, 2005

Home hasn’t been sweet for the Irish lately.

Notre Dame (5-18-5, 3-13-4) will try to snap a four-game losing streak at the Joyce Center – and eight-game losing streak overall – when they face Nebraska-Omaha (14-10-2, 10-8-2) in a two-game series this weekend.

The Irish have been mired in a difficult stretch of the season, going 1-9-1 in the month of January including 1-4 at the Joyce Center. Last season, Notre Dame lost only one game at home during the regular season.

“I think our starts have changed more than anything,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said about the difference in the team’s play at home this year. “At practice today we decided to go through our entire pre-game warm-up, because we’ve got to start better.

“You’ll look at some of our games and say that we played well, but it’s tough because you’re playing from behind most of the time in those games. I want to play with a lead and see the other team have to fight from behind and take some chances.”

The Irish dropped both games of a home-and-home series against Bowling Green last weekend, and have not won a CCHA game since Dec. 10 against Michigan State. Notre Dame currently sits in last place in the 12-member CCHA, while Nebraska-Omaha is in fourth with 22 points, three behind third-place Northern Michigan.

Notre Dame has five of its last eight games at home, and the Irish are looking to finish out the year strong.

“Right now we just want to win a game,” Poulin said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. I think winning a game re-enforces what you’re doing – all the little details. And then you play your next game and it’s our chance to finish on a strong note going into the CCHA playoffs.”

In Nebraska-Omaha, the Irish are hosting one of the most-improved teams in the conference.

After the 2003 season, the Mavericks finished the CCHA regular season in 11th place, but this year they started the season 4-0 and come into the Joyce Center as one of the most consistent teams overall in the conference.

“They’ve done a nice job of getting the right kids in there,” Poulin said of Nebraska-Omaha’s turnaround. “They do a lot of damage especially on the power play and have gotten consistent goaltending all year.”

One of the Mavericks’ key elements to their turnaround has been the play of freshman forward Bill Thomas. Already the prohibitive favorite for CCHA rookie of the year, Thomas leads all conference players with 17 assists and is currently second overall in scoring with 26 points.

Sophomore Scott Parse is right behind Thomas with 25 points, but the rest of the Mavericks are equally prolific at scoring. Nebraska-Omaha’s average of 3.40 goals per game is third best in the conference – compared to Notre Dame’s 1.55 goals per game average.

Maverick goalie Chris Holt was one of the better freshman netminders in the conference last season, and has seemed to avoid any sophomore slump this year. His 2.63 goals-against average and .913 save percentage are both in the top-10 among CCHA goalies.

Notre Dame faces Nebraska-Omaha at the Joyce Center tonight at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.