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Hockey: Spartans march into Joyce Center for historic match

Dan Murphy | Friday, November 17, 2006

Seven years ago, No. 4 Michigan State and No. 9 Notre Dame played to a 2-2 tie in the last showdown between top-10 ranked teams in the Joyce Center – until tonight. The Irish (8-1-1), now No. 5 in USCHO’s national poll, will face off against No. 4 Michigan State (5-2-1) in a home-and-home series this weekend. The action starts at 8:05 and will be nationally broadcasted by CSTV. Saturday night’s game at Munn Ice Arena will be televised by Comcast starting at 7 p.m. “It’s going to be exciting. It’s our first big chance to prove ourselves,” senior defenseman Wes O’Neill said. “We just need to come out and make sure we stay on an even keel and not let our emotions get the best of us.”O’Neill has four career points (one goal, three assists) against the Spartans, which leads all current Irish players. Senior wing Josh Sciba is not far behind with two goals and an assist in his eight career games against Michigan State.”This weekend presents a huge challenge to us as a team, and I think everyone is looking forward to that challenge,” Sciba said. The biggest test for Notre Dame this weekend is Michigan State’s 5-foot-6, 150-pound sophomore goalie Jeff Lerg. Last year, Lerg was named CCHA Rookie of the Year, as well as MVP of the conference tournament. He posted the seventh-best save percentage in the nation at .928.Lerg held the Notre Dame offense to three goals in their two wins over the Irish in his rookie season. “This weekend isn’t going to be about scoring the pretty goals. It’ll be about scoring those rebound goals in front of the net because of the way they play their defense,” said Sciba, who has one career goal against the Spartan netminder.With the way goaltender Dave Brown and the Irish defense have been playing so far this year, the team won’t need to worry too much about filling up the net. The defensive unit is currently the top-rated squad in the nation, allowing only 11 goals in their first 10 contests. “As long as we stick together out there and shut down their top couple lines, I think we will be fine,” O’Neill said. The Spartans top line, made up of three sophomores, is led by Tim Kennedy, who has scored all of his team-leading six goals in the past five games. Kennedy also has three assists in the current hot streak. He is joined by fellow sophomore Tim Crowder, who is in the middle of his own five-game point streak with two goals and six assists dating back to the team’s 7-5 win over Sacred Heart Oct. 28. Notre Dame’s young guns have also been performing at the top of their game recently. Sophomore center Erik Condra was named last week’s CCHA Player of the Week and the also received national player of the week honors from InsideCollegeHockey.com. Condra had two goals and three assists in last weekend’s two home wins over Bowling Green. With a win and a tie this weekend, Notre Dame could move into a tie for first place in the CCHA, putting them in great shape as they get into the bulk of their conference schedule in the next few weeks.”Trying to get to Joe Louis [Arena, host of the CCHA tournament championship] is our first goal, but right now we just want to focus on tomorrow night,” Sciba said. “Getting a victory Friday night would be huge, so we can’t really look beyond that.”Tickets for the game have already sold out, but 500 seats will be available for Notre Dame students on a first come, first served basis.