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Hockey: Growing pains

Dan Murphy | Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No. 13 Notre Dame opened up conference play with two wins and a loss during fall break, another week in which the Irish have had little time for practice amid a game-punctuated early season schedule.

The Irish (4-3, 2-1 CCHA) beat Bowling Green 4-2 on Oct. 23 before splitting a weekend series with Ferris State last week.

The team also dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 5 Denver Oct. 19 to start the week.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson attributed the team’s early struggles to youth and a lack of practice time.

“It’s important that we get down to some basics,” he said. “Next week will be our first full week of practice.”

The normal college schedule features weekend games allowing the teams to practice Monday through Friday, but so far this season Notre Dame has played mid-week games in each of the first two weeks of the season.

“Right now it’s about getting a little more patient with the puck and doing some more creative things,” Jackson said.

The offense had trouble getting on track in their second game against Denver.

Pioneers forward Alex Maiani scored a goal midway through the final period to break a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the year. Maiani stuffed home a long rebound after Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce turned away the initial chance. Pearce made 25 saves on 27 shots and Denver added an empty-net goal in the final minute of the game.

“[Pearce] has done a great job for us. He puts us in a good position to win every night,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

Pearce has started all seven games between the pipes this season and has racked up 163 saves with a goals-against average of 2.16 – good enough for fourth in the conference in both categories.

Pearce and the Irish opened play in the CCHA when they traveled to Bowling Green.

Four different players scored for Notre Dame including goals on the power play and penalty kill.

Senior captain Mark Van Guilder got things started with a goal on the power play – his fourth of the year. Van Guilder’s goal tied the score at 1-1 in the final minutes of the first period.

The Falcons took the lead back early in the second period when their own captain, Derek Whitmore, tipped a Dan Sexton pass by Pearce for his third tally on the season.

Notre Dame answered with goals from junior Garrett Regan and senior Evan Rankin. Junior center Erik Condra finally capped the Irish offense with a shorthanded goal four minutes into the third.

Notre Dame looked solid during a 3-2 win over Ferris State on Friday night. Rankin, sophomore wing Ryan Thang and freshman Ben Ryan all scored for the Irish, who held a 3-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.

Ryan has had a hot start to his collegiate career with two goals and five assists in his first seven games.

“He competes extremely hard. He’s not afraid to get physical and he gets his nose dirty,” Jackson said.

“He is only one point behind Miami’s Justin Mercier and Carter Camper for the conference lead in points.”

Ryan and the rest of the Irish offense were unable to get anything going in the second game against Bulldogs goalie Mitch O’Keefe, who racked up 37 saves to pick up his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 win.

“[O’Keefe] played well against us last February,” Jackson said. “Every time we’ve played him he played well against us. It’s just a matter of us having to create more situations.”

Notre Dame was 0-for-10 on power-play opportunities on the night and failed to create any traffic in front of the Ferris State crease.

The Irish will have another shortened week of practice before playing Lake Superior State on Thursday night at the Joyce Center.