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Hockey: Notre Dame has two games with fifth-place Ferris State

Kyle Cassily | Friday, February 10, 2006

The Irish are used to taking to the ice against some of the best teams in the country – it’s unavoidable when they play in a powerhouse conference like the CCHA. This weekend will be no exception, as Notre Dame (9-16-3, 7-12-3 CCHA) faces the No. 20 Ferris State Bulldogs (14-10-6, 9-8-5) in a home-and-home.

“We’ve been playing good hockey and in college hockey there’s not much difference between [the two] teams,” Irish associate head coach Paul Pooley said. “A power play goal here, a five on five faceoff goal here and all of a sudden your winning some games.”

Prior to last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Michigan State, the Irish had gained points in every one of their series dating back to the last weekend of November, when they suffered a two-game sweep at the hands of Ohio State. Currently the icers are tied for ninth in the league with Bowling Green and Alaska-Fairbanks – the two teams left on Notre Dame’s schedule after this weekend.

“I don’t think we need a sweep, we just want to keep progressing as a team,” Pooley said of the team’s need to get a jumpstart up the standings. “That’s our main priority – going into the playoffs feeling good about ourselves.”

An area in which the Irish have been trying to improve has been on offense. In the last four games they have lit the lamp only four times and were shut out by Ohio State two weekends ago.

To combat this, Pooley and the rest of the Irish staff held an optional skill practice to focus on scoring – a practice that a majority of the team attended. Also, the team has gone back to the chalkboard to discuss how a goal is scored according to Pooley, and he thinks the extra focus will pay off.

“I think we have some kids that can shoot it and getting to the net for rebounds and shooting the puck,” he said. “Traffic, tips, rebounds – all the things that we talked about from day one. We just emphasize it, we continue to emphasize it. We’re talking about it, and hopefully it brings up the fact that we can score. We need to score and it needs to be a priority for us.”

Ferris State goaltender Mitch O’Keefe will pose a strong threat for the Irish scorers as he has posted an 11-7-5 record this year with a 2.60 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

The Bulldogs are equally as dangerous on offense, coming off 7-2 and 4-2 wins over Western Michigan last weekend. The Irish must neutralize Bulldog center Greg Rallo to be successful on defense. The senior has 15 goals, 17 assists on the year.

Notre Dame is taking this weekend in stride and hopes to make a statement in the stretch run of the CCHA season. And to do so the team looks to continue to play to their strengths – power plays and faceoffs – and improving their offensive weakness.

“I think our power play has been pretty good moving the puck and I think we’re coming together, our kids are working hard,” Pooley said. “We want to improve everything, that’s where we are at right now.”


u After this weekend, Notre Dame will have played eight games against teams currently ranked in U.S. College Hockey Online’s national top-20. That elite list includes five top-10 teams – No. 2 Miami (Ohio), No. 7 Michigan, No. 8 Colorado College, No. 9 Denver and No. 10 Michigan State. The Irish also faced No. 18 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 19 Lake Superior State.

u Although eight of the 11 teams in the CCHA are ranked, Notre Dame still can earn an opening round series at home with a strong showing down the stretch.