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Hockey: ND moves up CCHA standings

Douglas Farmer | Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two weeks ago Notre Dame was in a three-way tie for seventh place in the CCHA after being swept at home by  No.11 Ferris State.
After gaining four points against No. 18 Lake Superior State this past weekend, the Irish have come into sole possession of sixth place, and are a mere three points behind fourth-place Lake Superior. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the team realized the dire position it was in after the Ferris State sweep, and set to playing its way back into contention.
“They are playing like they have their backs against the wall,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit to play with that sense of urgency that we do need to play with right now.”
The Irish (11-10-7, 7-7-6-2 CCHA) also gained four points the weekend of Jan. 15 in a series against No. 6 Michigan State, and due to the two-week surge they are in the middle of six CCHA teams separated by six points. Lake Superior has held onto its treasured fourth-place status with 32 points, followed by Alaska with 30 points, and the Irish in sixth with 29. From there Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha and Ohio State are all separated by a point each, respectively in seventh, eighth and ninth.
Thus, the ninth-place Buckeyes could jump to fourth or fifth place in the blink of an eye with a two-win, six-point weekend. All six teams are hoping to do just that as they chase the top four standing and the rewards that come with it. The top four teams receive a first-round bye in the CCHA tournament, and also host the second round of the tournament. Jackson said the difference those perks can make cannot be underappreciated.
“It’s always easier to play at home as far as less change and having the advantage of playing in front of your home crowd,” Jackson said. “Plus you don’t have to play that first-round series which gives you time to potentially heal up guys.”
Indeed, the first-round bye and subsequent home ice advantage have proven to be vital to Notre Dame’s success during Jackson’s tenure.
In 2006, the Irish finished eighth in the CCHA, and hosted a first-round series, but without a bye fell to Alaska Fairbanks, 1-3, 0-1. The following year, Notre Dame won the CCHA regular-season title and used its first-round bye and home ice advantage to reach the CCHA championship in Detroit, where the Irish won their first CCHA tournament. The team followed the same road in 2009.
The value of winning the CCHA tournament cannot be overlooked, as it brings with it an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, and a shot at the ultimate goal, the NCAA Championship.
“[The CCHA tournament] dictates the [NCAA Tournament],” Jackson said. “I have said since I got here that what you need to is put yourself in position to get to Detroit and there put yourself in position to make the NCAA Tournament.”
Thanks to the recent surge, the Irish are closing in on that desired fourth-place position, and once the postseason comes, the possible first-round bye and home ice advantage will be what matter, not the early season struggles and weekend sweeps.