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HOCKEY: Irish preparing for four-game road trip

Chris Khorey | Thursday, January 19, 2006

After playing in front of their first home sellout of the season Saturday, the Irish will spend their next two weekends away from home, with trips to Northern Michigan and Ohio State.

Notre Dame (7-12-3, 5-8-3 in the CCHA) is just 2-5-2 away from the Joyce Center this year, but the Irish are unbeaten in their last three road contests, posting a 2-0-1 mark against Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota State-Mankato.

“Just as the rest of our game has improved over the year our road games have improved too,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said about the team’s turnaround on the road.

Jackson said the improvement has to do with better play from Irish goaltender Dave Brown and Notre Dame’s special teams.

“If you’re going to have success on the road it boils down to goaltending, special teams and being better defensively,” the coach said.

According to Jackson, the Irish also play well on the road because they are naturally a conservative team, which helps in hostile environments.

“We’re more of a defensive team,” he said. “We pretty much play road hockey at home.”

But there’s more to a road game than on-ice strategy. The bus trip to Marquette, Mich. for the contest against the Wildcats will take nine hours. The Irish let early this morning, will play Friday and Saturday nights, and then drive through the early morning hours Sunday to arrive back in South Bend about 9 a.m. Notre Dame then has to turn around and do it again on the trip to Columbus next week.

Still, Jackson said things could be worse.

“It’ll definitely impact us, but Ohio State’s playing in Fairbanks (Alaska) this weekend,” he said.

Alaska-Fairbanks has been a member of the CCHA, which includes mostly Midwestern schools, since 1995-96. Notre Dame will face the Nanooks in South Bend Feb. 24-25, but the Irish do not have to travel to Fairbanks this year.

Aside from long trips and hostile fans, an opponent’s ice can even be a different size. The NCAA does not regulate ice size, so it varies between the NHL standard of 180 by 90 feet and the Olympic standard of 200 by 100 feet. The Joyce Center’s ice is NHL sized, as are most CCHA rinks, but the Nanooks and Wildcats both play on Olympic ice and the OSU Ice Rink in Columbus features a long and thin 200 by 85 ice sheet.

“[Olympic ice] makes a profound impact on the game,” Jackson said. “If you’re not accustomed to playing on it, it makes it difficult. That was kind of what we went through at Colorado College [in October] and Mankato was an Olympic sheet too.”

Jackson said larger ice can effect both offensive and defensive hockey.

“It spreads out the ice offensively so sometimes you don’t get as good of scoring chances because you’re too wide,” he said. “So it has an impact on things like protecting the puck offensively, but it also stretches you out defensively.”

The coach said he’s told his team the best way to deal with the different ice is to play like nothing has changed.

“You have to play the game like you’re on a normal rink,” Jackson said. “You can’t get decoyed by the wider ice.”

The Wildcats are 13-8-1 and 9-8-1 in the CCHA, good enough for second place. The Buckeyes are 11-9-4 and 7-7-2, sixth in the CCHA.