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Hockey: Goals slow in coming for Notre Dame offense

Douglas Farmer | Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Despite not being shut out until this past weekend, Notre Dame’s offense is the main culprit in the Irish (7-7-4, 4-4-4-2 CCHA) stumbling to a .500 record halfway through the season.

Miami (Ohio) topped Notre Dame 1-0 Friday night and routed the Irish 4-0 Saturday night. The last time the Irish did not score in a two-game weekend series was in January 2005, the season before current Irish coach Jeff Jackson took the reins of the program.

“[A lack of scoring] has just been a continuous problem,” Jackson said. “We had some good chances Friday night. Saturday night our chances were minimal. A lot of that had to do with our ability to possess the puck.”

Some of the weekend’s woes can be seen as a credit to Miami (11-2-5, 8-1-3-1), the top-ranked team in the country for nine weeks now, but Notre Dame has struggled to score goals all season.

“You get to this stage of the season, we are at the midway point of the year, and we need to get more production out of some guys,” Jackson said. “If we were scoring three goals a game, we might have four more wins.”

The Irish currently average 2.11 goals per game; three goals per game would jump the team from 11th in the CCHA standings to second. One goal more per game on many occasions boils down to a bounce here or an inch there, captain Ryan Thang said.

“The bounces aren’t going our way, whether it being hitting on pipes or just not capitalizing on chances,” Thang said. “For some reason [the puck] is hitting the post and not going in, whereas other teams are hitting the post and it is going directly in. It is a matter of centimeters and inches.”

For one Irish forward, the puck has been able to find the back of the net. Junior Calle Ridderwall leads the team with 10 goals.

“I think the times I’ve been scoring have been a couple of backdoors, or good passes from teammates,” Ridderwall said. “Sometimes you just have the puck bounce your way a little bit. Fortunately I’ve had that happen to me a couple times this season.”

Ridderwall’s success bodes well for the rest of the Notre Dame offense. Maybe the turning point really will come down to a fluke goal, or an unexpected change to the lineup, and the rest of the team will start knocking in goals as the Sweden native has this season.

Jackson said a prolonged scoring drought is cause for concern, but he has seen a team snap out of such before.

“We had the same kind of problem in the second half two years ago, the year we went to the Frozen Four,” he said. “January, February and early March we had a real difficult time scoring.”

Surprisingly, an injury to the team’s leading scorer sparked a scoring surge at an ideal time.

“Then we got to the NCAA Tournament, and Erik Condra got knocked out, and he was our best player,” Jackson said. “All of a sudden we score seven against [New Hampshire] and score five against Michigan. We got to the Tournament, and we came to life. Any little thing potentially could trigger [an offensive outburst].”

Not that Notre Dame’s best player has been knocked out this season, but perhaps that little thing has already taken place, and its effects have been slow in coming.

“We’re all asking the same thing: when are things going to turn around?” Thang said. “Maybe things are turning around already and we just don’t know it.”