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Hockey: ND ready for two vs. MSU

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 27, 2009

Tonight’s home game against Michigan State may be senior night, but Irish coach Jeff Jackson knows that this senior class still has to take care of some business in the Joyce Center.

“For me personally it’ll be a bittersweet moment,” Jackson said. “It’ll be bitter to see them play their last home regular season game, but it’s also sweet to know their work is not yet complete.”

No. 2 Notre Dame (25-5-3, 19-4-3-3 CCHA) has already wrapped up the league’s regular season crown and the top seed in the conference tournament. The Irish are guaranteed to host a best-of-three series March 13-15 after receiving a bye in the CCHA tournament, which begins next weekend.

The Spartans (10-19-5, 7-15-4-3), perennially one of the conference’s top squads, has gone through some growing pains this season. Michigan State is tied for 10th in the CCHA standings with 21 points, ahead of only Bowling Green (17 pts.).

With a big weekend, though, the Spartans could surpass Lake Superior (21 pts.) and Western Michigan (22 pts.) to climb up to No. 9 in the final CCHA standings.

“They’re going to play to win, and they’re going to compete hard,” Jackson said. “They’re a tough team to play against, and Ohio State found that out two weeks ago.”

Despite the Spartans’ struggles, they still boast one of the nation’s top goaltenders in Jeff Lerg. That alone makes them a formidable opponent, Jackson said.

“Sometimes the wounded animal is the most dangerous,” he said. “As long as they have a superstar in net, that makes them a difficult team to play. They have one of the best goaltenders in the country, and I think they rally around him.”

The home-and-home series with the Spartans, which will move to East Lansing, Mich., Saturday night, isn’t entirely meaningless for the Irish. Notre Dame must finish strong to make sure it secures a top-four seed in the 16-team NCAA Tournament.

And, Jackson said, playing well this weekend will go a long way in ensuring the Irish are prepared headed into a bye week, and then the CCHA tournament.

“Having a bye is a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing,” Jackson said. “We have to be sure we play at a high intensity level this weekend, and then do the same in practice this next week to simulate the intensity our [playoff] opponent would have played in.

“It’s a mental thing, and we have to make sure we’re sharp.”

Senior netminder Jordan Pearce is one of six seniors who will be honored following the game, and he could tie ’07 grad David Brown for second on the school’s all-time win list with a victory tonight. Pearce has 53 career wins and trails only Brown (54) and ’90 grad Lance Madson (55).

Captain Erik Condra (team-high 22 assists, 32 points), Christian Hanson (team-high 15 goals), Luke Lucyk, Garret Regan and Justin White will also be honored on senior night. Those six players make up Notre Dame’s all-time winningest class, as they head into the weekend 97-47-14.

“I’ll always remember this group as being the young guys that helped make a difference and set a culture that others will be able to follow for many years to come,” Jackson said. “Their legacy will be well known. It’ll be hanging in the rafters in that new building.”