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Hockey: Jackson looking for consistency

Sam Werner | Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If there is one word that has been used more than any other to describe Jeff Jackson teams over the years, it has to be “consistent.”

So far this season, though, the Irish (5-4-1, 2-1-1 CCHA) are struggling to find that trademark steadiness.

“I think this will be good for us in the end,” senior defenseman Kyle Lawson said. “It’s definitely tough right now to go through and little bit frustrating, but I think everybody still has a lot of confidence in this team. We’ve got a lot of great players and we know our coaches know what they’re doing.”

The one rock of consistency in Irish coach Jackson’s teams has usually been the goaltender. The past two seasons, netminder Jordan Pearce started 38 and 42 games. Prior to Pearce, David Brown started in 39 and 30 games in his two seasons under Jackson.

So far this year, though, the Irish have, for the most part, alternated between junior Brad Phillips and freshman Mike Johnson, with Phillips getting five starts and Johnson getting four.

This past weekend against Alaska, Johnson was the first of the two goalies to start twice in one weekend. Friday night, he surrendered only two goals in a 3-2 Irish win. Saturday, though, Johnson gave up three third-period goals as Notre Dame lost to the Nanooks 3-1.
Jackson said that he thought Johnson played well in both games, and that not all of Saturday’s goals were necessarily his fault.

“He’s only a freshman,” Jackson said. “But if he continues to play on a consistent basis, yeah, he’s going to compete to be the guy for sure. I’m not giving up on Brad or [senior] Tommy [O’Brien] at this point. I still need to give Brad more time to prove that he’s capable. I think he’s not had a lot of support in front of him offensively.”

Jackson said that at this point he was still looking for one goalie to step up and become the full-time starter, but that eventually he may have to consider using multiple netminders for the rest of the season.

“I’ve never been a two-goalie guy my whole coaching career, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t try it,” Jackson said. “If I had to guys that were able to win for us, then, yeah.”
While the situation in net works itself out, the Irish are also searching for consistency scoring goals. So far, the Irish rank ninth in the 12-team CCHA with 2.3 goals per game.
Specifically, Notre Dame is having difficulty scoring goals even strength. In two games against the Nanooks, Notre Dame scored a powerplay goal in each game. On the season, the Irish have converted on 21.1 percent of their chances with the man advantage.

“Now we know that for that whole two minutes we have a threat, no matter which unit goes first and which goes second,” Lawson said.

Jackson, though, said he was still focused in improving Notre Dame’s 5-on-5 scoring efficiency.

“You look the statistical categories in our conference, there’s one that glaring for us,” Jackson said. “In the rest of them, we’re doing OK.”

In fact, the Irish are in the top five in the conference in nearly every other statistical category. Jackson said that at the beginning of the season, he was trying to find the right line combinations, but that eventually the players just had to get into a scoring rhythm.

“I’ve switched lines around so much I’m getting tired of it,” Jackson said. “At some point it’s up to the players to start building some confidence in their ability with the puck. We’ve got guys that really know how to score, but right now some guys are squeezing the stick a little bit too hard.”

Despite the slow start, Lawson remained confident that the Irish would turn things around.
“We’ve just got to get back to the little things,” he said. “We know it’s going to come eventually and it’ll be fun once it does.”

Jackson said that junior defenseman Teddy Ruth was expected to return this weekend against Northern Michigan. Jackson added that Ruth, who had missed the first couple of weeks with a leg injury, is not expected to be 100 percent healthy right away, but can provide Notre Dame with valuable depth along the back line.
“We’ve had four guys logging a lot of minutes the past month and I think that’s hurt us in the third period of a lot of games,” Jackson said.