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Hockey: Newly ranked Irish refuse to say “g-word”

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yeah, they beat No. 1 Boston College. And, yeah, they’re now No. 11 in the country.

“Big deal,” they say sarcastically.

With the 7-1 trouncing of those Jesuits from Chestnut Hill and a nearly identical 6-1 encore over those Franciscans from Providence the next night, Irish hockey reached a fork in the road they hadn’t come upon in over two years.

On the left, the path is broad, well-lit and slick with freshly watered ice. Loudspeakers spit praise so loud that one cannot hear anything else, and it is so brilliant that little can be seen beyond the first dozen yards.

On the right, the path is narrow, dim and the ice shavings pile up high enough around divots in the sheet that they could be confused for snowdrifts in the Yukon. It runs straight and it is possible to stare for miles once the eyes adjust to the dark, but no final destination can be seen along the horizon.

Which path do you take? Which path leads to the most desirable ending?

Well, Notre Dame has chosen the path to the right, and that speck along the horizon may very well be a lucrative tournament finish – be it CCHA or NCAA or both.

The team refuses to buy into the hype that has surrounded them in the days since they plowed through New England. They don’t even think they are a great team, because, of course, it’s only October and there are another 32 games to go.

The euphoria and ‘crazy atmosphere’, in senior alternate captain Wes O’Neill’s words, of the post-win locker room barely held over to the next day, when the team crushed a competent Providence squad. The Irish are too good of a team to allow a slip up to happen – but good luck trying to get them to call themselves the g-word.

They would much rather be called a consistent team than a good team. They know the teams that think they are good will eventually get lost in the brilliance of their own accomplishments and emerge dazed and confused at the end of the road without a sense of direction.

They would rather remain in the dark and win – one game at a time.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson knows this and believes that consistency is the only litmus test for a strong program, that winning weekend after weekend is the only way to know whether a hockey team should be ranked, receiving votes or sitting unranked in the sin bin.

It is the first time since senior captain T.J. Jindra’s freshman year, a season that ended with a NCAA Tournament appearance, that he can recall the Irish holding to such a stoic and no-nonsense philosophy.

“We beat them on Friday, and we were happy,” Jindra said. “But we took care of business, and we were already looking towards Saturday. That’s the key to being a good team.”

And Irish coach Jeff Jackson hopes the entire team has adopted that attitude.

He said that the coaching staff has prepared the team mentally for the obstacles that are generated by big wins, but it is only a matter of time to determine if it has worked.

“We’ve made really good strides in a lot of areas,” he said. “This is one that we haven’t had before. This is one area that we haven’t had to deal with yet.”

It will take several weekends and more likely several months to see how the Irish deal with their newfound celebrity, but they are headed in the right direction. That shapeless horizon may, six months from now, brighten and reveal a hard-earned title.

And if it does, Jackson, Jindra, O’Neill and the rest will be the first to say that cursed g-word.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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