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Miami’s pressure leads to a weekend sweep

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Irish coach Jeff Jackson blamed himself for a pair of home losses to No. 10 Miami as No. 8 Notre Dame (2-3-0, 0-2-0-0 CCHA) opened its conference slate by falling 2-0 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday.

“We weren’t prepared for their pressure, whether it was their penalty kill, their forecheck, or their defensive zone coverage, and that’s my fault,” Jackson said. “I’ve got to make sure our guys are ready for that kind of an opponent.”

But a surprising Miami game plan shouldn’t have stifled the Irish the way it did, Jackson said.

“We need to work harder at competing – winning more battles, more one-on-one races for the puck – and that applies to our power play, 5-on-5, penalty kill, everything,” he said. “I thought [Miami] played with a lot of physicality, and with us back on our heels, that’s how we’re supposed to play at home, not the visiting team.”

The RedHawks (3-1-2, 3-0-1-0) scored the first three goals of the series before Irish sophomore defenseman Ian Cole got his team on the board with under five minutes to play in Saturday’s second period.

Sophomore left wing Calle Ridderwall and freshman right wing Billy Maday worked the puck loose near the Miami net and eventually found Cole, who put it home from the left point for his second goal of the season and a 1-1 tie.

“Offensive zone, broken play – it came from guys battling,” Cole said. “I got it up top, had some time, and [Miami] packs it in pretty tight around the goal, so I waited, waited, waited, found a lane, shot it, and it went in.”

Miami would regain the lead on a power-play goal – the RedHawks’ second of the night – with three minutes to play in the second period, and the visitors made it 3-1 less than two minutes later with an even-strength goal.

Irish senior center Christian Hanson capped the scoring with under two minutes to go on a play started by freshman defenseman Sean Lorenz. With Notre Dame senior goaltender Jordan Pearce pulled, Lorenz gave the puck to senior captain Erik Condra, who found Hanson alone in the slot.

Friday’s shutout was Notre Dame’s first at home since a 2-0 loss to Alaska on March 4, 2006. RedHawks freshman netminder Cody Riechard stopped all 29 Irish shots, including 15 on eight power play chances, for his first career shutout, and a pair of Notre Dame turnovers led to both Miami goals.

“You really need to make good decisions with the puck when you’re under pressure like we were,” Jackson said. “Great players learn how to play under pressure, and that’s something we’ve got to improve on. In pro hockey, they call it ‘panic threshold’. We have to raise our panic threshold to where under heavy pressure, we can still make good decisions.”

The Irish went 0-for-8 on power plays on each night, which they also did in a 5-2 season-opening loss at No. 4 Denver on Oct. 11. Notre Dame killed all three of its penalties on Friday but allowed two power-play goals on Saturday as Jackson continues to search for the right special teams combinations.

“Mostly on the power play,” Jackson said about where he intends to make changes. “The basics of our penalty kill are strong, and it’s just about winning all those little battles and footraces. We need to build a little more depth in our penalty kill – I use four guys an awful lot, and we need to get six guys going for sure.”

Hanson, senior left wing Garrett Regan, and sophomore center Ben Ryan are potential penalty killers, Jackson said.

The losses represent a disappointing start for the Irish, who entered the season No. 3 in the polls but fell to No. 13 this week. But with more than four months on the schedule before the CCHA playoffs begin, Notre Dame is far from being in a state of panic.

“We’ve had the rough start, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Pearce said. “What’s most important is that you play your best hockey at the end of March and into April, when it counts the most. That’s not to say that these games aren’t important, but it’s important to learn the lessons about coming to the rink, working hard and seeing what we need to do to be successful in March.”

Cole said the losses could be seen “in a good light” if the Irish can rebound and play well at Northern Michigan in a two-game CCHA series this weekend.

“It’s good that it happened now instead of instead of February like it did last year, when most times it’s too late,” Cole said. “It’s a wake-up call that hopefully will get us going and get us battling harder.”