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Hockey: Irish set to take on No. 14 Spartans in a home-and-home

Chris Khorey | Friday, February 3, 2006

Notre Dame will play its first home game in three weeks tonight at 7:35 p.m. when the Irish take on No. 14 Michigan State in the first contest of a weekend home-and-home with the Spartans.

The Irish (9-14-3 overall, 7-10-3 CCHA) enter the game tied for ninth in the CCHA with Bowling Green. They will face a Michigan State team that sits in fourth place in the conference but is riding a four-game winless streak dating back to Jan. 20.

Still, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said the Spartans, who tied No. 6 Michigan twice in a home-and-home last weekend, will be a tough matchup.

“I think they’re playing as well as any team in our league right now, maybe with the exception of Miami,” he said. “They went through some tough times with injuries, but they’re healthy now and they’ve showed what kind of team they can be.”

The Spartans are led by forward Bryan Lerg. The sophomore tops the Spartans in points with 29, including 10 goals.

In net for Michigan State, junior Dominic Vicari and freshman Jeff Lerg have split time. Jeff Lerg, who is Bryan Lerg’s cousin, has a goals against average of 2.06. Vicari is giving up 2.67 scores per contest.

They will face a Notre Dame unit that had been putting up at least two goals per game until it ran into the wall known as Ohio State goalie Dave Caruso last week. The Irish scored only one goal on Caruso in two games, although they did earn a split with the Buckeyes in a pair of 1-0 games.

Jackson said he hopes the offense will return against the Spartans.

“We’ve had trouble scoring goals in the past, but Caruso’s one of the best goaltenders in our league,” he said. “I don’t think we got enough chances; I don’t think we had enough traffic by the net; I think he saw too many shots.

“We’ve worked on those things in practice. We do every week.”

Notre Dame won’t need many goals if junior goalie Dave Brown plays like he did against the Buckeyes. After being pulled one week earlier against Northern Michigan in favor of freshman Jordan Pearce, Brown allowed just one goal last weekend, including the sixth shutout of his career on Saturday.

“The puck was big to him last weekend,” said Jackson, who said he pulled Brown in order to refocus his team. “If he can play the way he did last weekend, he gives us a chance to win every night.”

Notre Dame will travel to East Lansing, Mich. for the second half of the home-and-home, marking the third straight weekend that the Irish will be on the road for at least one of their games.

“It’s a long spell when we don’t get a pure weekend at home,” Jackson said. “To me, when you have to travel on a weekend, it’s a travel weekend. We have to get on a bus Friday right after the game.”

Irish practices have been shortened this week from their usual two hours to an hour and a half. Jackson said he wants to keep the team fresh for and focused on the weekend games.

“It’s a long season, and school is back in session,” Jackson said. “They need more time to recover. It’s that time of the year when things need to be crisp and short. As long as they’re intense, practices are shorter.”

Saturday’s game in East Lansing, like tonight’s at the Joyce Center, will face off at 7:35 p.m.