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Hockey: Pioneers visit South Bend

Dan Murphy | Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Irish go from one group of Pioneers to the next this weekend.

A week after losing its season-opener to the No. 6 Denver Pioneers in Colorado, Notre Dame returns to South Bend for a two-game series with the Pioneers from Sacred Heart.

Notre Dame dropped from No. 4 to No. 8 in the rankings following last Saturday’s 5-2 loss, but Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he thinks being at home will help his team this weekend.

“You’re more in your own routine and you don’t have to sleep in a strange bed,” he said. “I hope some of our students stick around for the Friday night game at least.”

Jackson said despite the loss, there were plenty of things to build on going into this weekend’s games. The relatively young Irish team showed that they have the talent to earn their top-10 ranking.

Notre Dame’s 0-for-8 effort on the power play had a big role in the loss. Scoring with the man advantage was also an Achilles heel for last year’s team.

Jackson said he plans on making changes this weekend by putting sophomore Dan Kissel and Ben Ryan on one of the two power-play units. Ryan missed the Denver game because of an injury. Freshman Billy Maday is also expected to see some time on the unit as well. Maday scored on his first career shot against the Pioneers.

“I’m going to make changes. You have to have guys who play specific roles – playing solid in front of the net, retrieving pucks in the corners. Scoring goals on the power play is about getting down and dirty in front of the net,” Jackson said.

Sacred Heart has killed nine of its 11 penalties so far this season. The Pioneers dropped their first two games of the year to Air Force last weekend. The Falcons won 4-1 Friday night and 4-3 in overtime Saturday.

“I’m not that knowledgeable about them, but I know they’re well coached and they’ll compete extremely hard,” Jackson said.

The Pioneers finished 16-17-4 last season and advanced to the Atlantic Hockey Association Final Five before losing to Mercyhurst.

Jackson made it clear that his young team knows not to overlook a team like Sacred Heart if they hope to return to the NCAA Tournament this March. He said his team has to play with more consistency and discipline in order to be successful.

Notre Dame will open up CCHA play the weekend following mid-semester break at home against No. 7 Miami (Ohio).

“We hope that by then the students will be back from break and we get a good turnout for the games,” Jackson said.