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Hockey: Irish trek to Wolverines’ unfriendly Yost for grudge match

Dan Murphy | Sunday, December 10, 2006

Notre Dame will face its third top-10 opponent of the year when it heads to Ann Arbor Friday night to take on Michigan at Yost Arena.

The No. 5 Irish (12-3-1, 7-2-1 CCHA) will play a home-and-home series with the No. 7 Wolverines (12-5, 8-3 CCHA) that finishes Sunday at 3:05 p.m. in the Joyce Center. Just one victory this weekend would be enough to match the team’s win total from last season.

“I knew we would be better this year, but I didn’t think we would be this much better,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

A pair of victories this weekend would also catapult Notre Dame over Michigan into second place in the CCHA standings, and the team could surpass Miami for the overall lead, depending on how the RedHawks fare against Ohio State.

Jackson’s team will need to continue to play well in its own zone – the Irish lead the nation in team defense – in order to get by the explosive Wolverine offense. The Wolverines have scored 79 goals in the first half of the season – the third best mark in the country, behind No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 New Hampshire.

“We have played some pretty big offensive powerhouses, so we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Irish goaltender Dave Brown said.

Senior T.J. Hensick leads the team – and the NCAA – in scoring with seven goals and 26 assists through 17 games. He creates more offense individually (1.92 points per game) than the Notre Dame defense is giving up to entire teams (1.35 goals per game).

Hensick is joined on the same line with senior David Rohlfs and junior Kevin Porter, who have 10 and 13 goals respectively. All three have been drafted to play in the NHL.

“The problem with Michigan is that you defend on Hensick, and Porter scores. You defend on [Andrew] Cogliano, and [Chad] Kolaric scores,” Jackson said. “They have too many weapons to focus on one guy.”

The Irish defense added another aspect to its game this past weekend from freshman Kyle Lawson, who scored his first collegiate goal on a shot from the point in Saturday’s 6-2 win over Alaska. Lawson also tallied an assist in the game for his eighth point of the year, tying senior Noah Babin for the most points on the team by a defenseman.

Lawson also found out this weekend that he was selected to play for the U.S. National Team in the 2007 IIHF Junior World Championship in Leksand, Sweden over winter break.

“It’s just an honor to be a part of [the national team] and hopefully we can go and win a gold medal,” he said.

The New Hudson, Mich., native becomes the 10th Irish player to be named to the national roster. The last two players to make the cut were Rob Globke and Brett Lebda – current NHL players – in 2001.

“That’s a real plus for him, we’ll miss him at Christmas time, but it’s a good opportunity and a good sign for our program” Jackson said.

The tournament starts Dec. 26 and continues until the championship game Jan. 5. Lawson will miss a two-game conference series with Northern Michigan and possibly a Jan. 5 matchup with Robert Morris.

Notre Dame will then finish off its winter break schedule with a Jan. 24-25 series against Lake Superior State.