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Hockey: Winning streak still intact

Sam Werner | Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Irish picked up right where they left off before Christmas break, winning games against Union, Minnesota-Duluth and Alaska to run their unbeaten streak to 18 games.

After a three-week break, Notre Dame returned to action on Jan. 2 and 3, hosting the Shillelagh tournament against Union, Minnesota-Duluth, and Massachusetts-Lowell.

In the first game against Union, the Irish fell behind 1-0 after the first period, but rebounded thanks to goals from senior Justin White and sophomore Ben Ryan. Junior Dan Kissel added a third-period goal to secure the win and a spot in the tournament title game against the Bulldogs. Despite the win, senior Christian Hanson said he thought the team could have played better.

“I don’t think the team played great as a whole,” he said. “We were definitely a little rusty.”

Against Minnesota-Duluth, the Irish started hot, with two goals in the opening period from senior Garrett Regan. Senior Erik Condra added an empty-net goal with one second left in the game to give Notre Dame a 3-1 win and the Shillelagh Tournament title. Irish goalie Jordan Pearce was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“I give them a lot of credit because it looks like we came back in good shape,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “I thought we played really well against Duluth Saturday night.”

Jackson said he was pleased with the outcome of a tournament as a whole, and credited Associate Athletic Director Tom Nevala for organizing it.

“He did an outstanding job in making it a first-class event,” Jackson said. “I thought it was a huge success and I know that we’re looking at doing it again next year. With a full year to actually market it and sell it, it would be an outstanding tradition.”

The Irish continued their winning ways last weekend against Alaska, eking out 2-0 and 3-0 wins in games that entered the third period scoreless. In the first game, junior Ryan Thang notched a goal at 11:40 of the final period, and Condra added and empty-netter to clinch the game. In the second game, Hanson snapped the deadlock at 5:53 of the third period with his team-leading 14th goal of the season. Ryan added another at 12:28, and Thang notched an empty-net goal to finish the scoring.

Jackson said his team’s ability to wait for the right chance was crucial in the wins over the Nanooks.

“When you’re playing against teams that stress a lot of defense, it’s hard to generate scoring chances,” he said. “So you’re going to have to be patient.”

Hanson echoed his coach, saying that it was important that the team remained calm, even if they weren’t scoring goals.

“If we got ahead of ourselves or got a little antsy and took a stupid penalty, they definitely had the ability to capitalize and then just pack it in for the rest of the game,” he said.

Jackson also praised Pearce for his back-to-back shutouts.

“He’s been a rock all season,” he said. “And I think this weekend was just a culmination of it.”

The wins maintained Notre Dame’s hold on the top spot in the CCHA, giving the Irish a five-point cushion over Miami (OH).

The four wins to start the second half are a stark contrast to last year when the Irish, hot going into the break, went 2-5-1 and struggled for much of the second half before rebounding in the NCAA Tournament.

“Going through that last year, I think it really gave us a lot of experience,” Hanson said. “Before Christmas break we had a team meeting where we really stressed the importance of guys staying in shape over break.”

The Irish haven’t lost since an Oct. 25 defeat to the hands of Miami (OH), but Hanson said while winning was obviously a good thing, the team wouldn’t rest on their laurels.

“It’s something to be proud of,” he said. “But it’s also something that we can’t get caught up in.”

Jackson was more frank with his evaluation of his team’s success.

“We’re not going to win every game the rest of the way,” he said. “We just have to be prepared so that when we do lose, we bounce back well the next game.”