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Hockey: Jackson will not play ‘patsies’ during break

Dan Murphy | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

As the college hockey world enters its annual three-week hibernation, No. 6 Notre Dame finds itself in a very familiar position.

At the onset of the break, the Irish (16-4) have a virtually identical record and ranking to last year’s 16-3-1 team. After starting 4-3, coach Jeff Jackson has pulled together his young and talented squad to win 12 of its last 13 games against some of the country’s top teams. Two of the team’s four losses have come against top-five teams (a pair of 3-1 losses to No. 2 Miami and No. 4 Denver).

“I think we started this year with a lot more questions than last year … but once we got those answered we started to show we could be a pretty good team,” Jackson said. “I think we are as far if not further ahead than we were last year.”

But the second half of the season will bring plenty of obstacles for Notre Dame. The Irish are slated for two-game series with both No. 1 Michigan and No. 5 Michigan State in January.

Notre Dame’s next game will be on Dec. 29 against No. 9 Massachusetts at the Lightning College Hockey Classic in St. Petersburg, Fla. If they beat the Minutemen, the Irish will play the following night in the championship game against either No. 3 Colorado College or No. 16 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The Irish won the first-ever Lightning Classic last season in late November, beating Air Force 2-0 in the final. This time around, the competition will be much stiffer.

“I wanted UMass and Colorado College in there because I know they are both good programs. Now that tournament is shaping up to be one of the best in the country,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to go in and play a bunch of patsies.”

The third-year coach has played a big role in setting up the tournament and increasing the talent level during his time at Notre Dame. Jackson has a personal connection with one of the members of the Tampa Bay Lightning ownership group, and the pair has worked together to develop the tournament.

The St. Pete Forum – home of the tournament and the Lightning – will host the 2012 Frozen Four. The owners wanted these games played there in order to build up a college hockey fan base over the next five years.

Jackson said his team benefits from the tournament-style play.

“Anytime you play in a tournament you are playing for something,” Jackson said. “It simulates Joe Louis [Arena, the venue of the CCHA Championship] or [an NCAA] regional tournament. It simulates the Frozen Four.”

The Irish won the CCHA tournament at Joe Louis Arena last season, but lost 2-1 to Michigan State in the regional tournament one game shy of the Frozen Four.

Jackson says his team still has work to do but is hoping to put itself in good position heading into the playoffs.

“We want to solidify home ice in the playoffs and get ourselves in position to do some damage in the playoffs. That’s all you can ask is to get yourself in that position,” Jackson said.