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Hockey: Cold as ice

Kyle Cassily | Monday, January 21, 2008

The No. 8 Irish were arguably one of the hottest teams in the nation entering the Christmas break, but since the return from the holidays Notre Dame has been anything but.

The Irish (18-9-1, 11-6-1 CCHA) have gone 2-5-1 in that stretch, including 3-2 and 5-1 losses this weekend on the road to No. 1 Michigan. The offense has scored only 14 goals in eight games, and the power play unit was unable to convert on its nine chances against the Wolverines (22-2, 15-1 CCHA), extending its futile streak to eight games and 39 chances.

“I’ve been concerned about this since last week,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “It’s not an issue of us playing brutal. We’re playing fairly well, we’re just not getting enough offensive oomph in our game.”

Notre Dame and Michigan played Friday’s game in Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, but on Saturday the two teams faced off in The Palace at Auburn Hills in what was technically an Irish home game. It was the sixth time Notre Dame has played at The Palace, five times against Michigan, and all resulted in losses.

In the first game on Friday, Notre Dame jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from forwards Kevin Deeth and Justin White. Deeth scored 3:33 into the game when his wrist shot deflected off a defenseman’s stick and over Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer. White’s goal came two minutes later on a two-on-one when Irish winger Ryan Guentzel drew the defender toward him, opening White up for the pass and goal.

They were the last goals the Irish would score as the Wolverines netted two in the second from Kevin Porter and Matt Rust to tie the game 2-2.

“We have to start doing more battling in the front of the net,” Jackson said. “We’ve been playing against very good goaltenders. … We can try to work on those things in practice, but it’s going to boil down to guys getting gritty in front of the net.”

With 20 seconds left in the game, Michigan forward Louie Caporusso banged home a rebound past Irish goalie Jordan Pearce (25 saves) to give the Wolverines the 3-2 win.

“We lost the draw and lost coverage,” Jackson said. “It was just an uncharacteristic thing that happened, we just lost sight of the guy we were covering.”

Jackson replaced Pearce in net with 17-year-old freshman Brad Phillips for Saturday’s 5-1 loss in the Palace, starting only his fifth game of the season behind the junior Pearce. Phillips lasted two periods, allowing four goals on 19 shots, before Pearce was put back in net for the third. Pearce allowed no goals on 10 shots in the third.

“I had to put the young kid in to see how he would do in that environment,” Jackson said. “I basically know what I’m going to get from Jordan Pearce. I need Jordan to elevate his game another level. I needed to see if Phillips could handle it, and he probably put a lot of pressure on himself.”

Michigan scored two goals in the first and two more in the second to get a 4-1 lead going into the third. The Wolverines added the fifth on an empty-net goal.

The lone Notre Dame goal of the night was scored at 14:38 of the first period by freshman Ben Ryan, who got an open pass in front of the net from sophomore Dan Kissel to tie the game at 1-1.

One large part of Notre Dame’s lack of offense has been its inability to convert on power play chances. In Friday’s 3-2 loss, the Irish were given a five-minute man advantage just two minutes into the third period when Michigan defenseman Chris Summers was whistled for checking from behind.

The major penalty came when the game was deadlocked 2-2, but the Irish couldn’t get one shot on net during the power play.

“We have to start doing more away from the puck,” Jackson said. “Defensively, we’ve been good, we haven’t given up a lot. The problem is until last night, if we score one power play goal a game, we’d probably be 7-1 [since break].

“[The power play is] in our minds. Everybody’s talking about it, everybody’s making a big issue on it. Eventually one is going to go in off a skate or off our butt and we’re going to start being productive again.”