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Hockey: Notre Dame tries to get back into CCHA race at Lake Superior

Michael Blasco | Friday, January 22, 2010

Irish coach Jeff Jackson returns to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where he led Lake Superior State to two NCAA titles, this weekend as the Irish face the No. 18 Lakers in a two-game CCHA series.

Notre Dame (10-10-6, 6-7-5-2 CCHA) is sitting in a tie for sixth place in the conference, five points behind fifth-place Lake Superior (14-8-4, 9-7-2-1).

The Irish are coming off of a four-point home-and-home series against No. 10 Michigan State. The weekend was marked by four goals from Notre Dame senior captain Ryan Thang, who had been mired in a scoring drought.

The performance relieved some stress on the Irish, who have been searching for more contributions from their senior players as the season turned sour.

“Those kids that are captains in there, if they weren’t working hard, if they weren’t executing, if they weren’t doing their best for the team, then we’d have issues,” Jackson said. “But I certainly don’t feel that, not in any way at all.”

Notre Dame will hope to carry its offensive momentum into Sault Ste. Marie this weekend, as the Irish have only ten conference games remaining to make up ground in the CCHA.

“We can’t be consistent for just one weekend series. It’s crunch time and we need to pick up points whenever we can,” Thang said. “Our margin for error is tiny … 10 games is a short period of time, and we need to go out with a bang. We’re going to make a run at this thing.”

Notre Dame will need to make its run without the services of senior wing Christiaan Minella, who suffered a knee injury against the Spartans, which will keep him off the ice for 6-8 weeks. Minella joins a long list of Irish wounded, which has left Notre Dame depleted along the defensive line.

The Lakers enter this weekend as one of the hottest teams in the CCHA, coming off a sweep of CCHA-opponent Nebraska-Omaha in a home series.

Thang recognized that the physical play of Lake Superior will force the Irish to play smart and make the most of opportunities.

“You can’t be shooting from all over the place,” Thang said. “Once you start letting them block shots, you’ll give up a lot of odd-man rushes. You’ve got to be moving with the puck and pulling back on those quick shots at the net where you’ve got a seeing-eye chance, otherwise we’ll be backchecking all night.”

Notre Dame will play at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Lake Superior’s Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie.