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Hockey: Spartans provide only home opponent of November

Allan Joseph | Friday, November 19, 2010

The No. 11 Irish return to the friendly confines of the Joyce Center this weekend after a five-game road trip that returned mixed results.

Notre Dame (7-3-1, 5-2-1-1 CCHA) won two games, including a hard-earned 3-1 victory at No. 8/9 Michigan, tied one game (picking up the shootout point) and dropped two, including a tough 2-3 decision at Bowling Green.

Rather than coming home to a respite, however, the Irish will take on No. 17 Michigan State in what will be Notre Dame’s only two home games between Oct. 29 and Dec. 11.

“It’s always fun to play in the JACC in front of your home fans,” senior alternate captain Calle Ridderwall said. “It feels like we’ve been gone for a while so it’s definitely exciting.”

The contest against the Spartans (4-3-3, 2-3-1-0 CCHA) will have significant implications on the CCHA standings, atop which the Irish currently sit.

“It doesn’t really mean much, but I can see as a younger guy it’s nice to see that you’re up there,” Ridderwall said. “It’s just a little bit of a mental thing seeing your name on top.”

Michigan State, though currently in eighth in the league standings, is considered by most CCHA observers to be a significant threat to the top of the league.

“They were expected to be a top-four team in our conference,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It’s still so early in the year you don’t know how things are going to pan out, but I fully expect them to be in the hunt for a top four spot.”

With arguably the toughest road trip in college hockey ahead of them (a pair of games at North Dakota Nov. 26-27), the young Irish squad will have to focus on the task at hand. Ridderwall doesn’t see that being an issue for his teammates.

“I think coming into this weekend, [the freshmen have] had enough games in their bag,” he said. “They know what to expect and know what level we have to play at every night.”

But if Notre Dame does get caught with a lack of focus, the Spartans could turn the tables on the Irish in a hurry.

“They’re tenacious. They play hard and they’re a pretty good transition team, so you have to be really smart with the puck against them,” Jackson said. “They’re going to take advantage, get you into situations where you turn the puck over and then they transition well.”

Jackson said the home games will be crucial for his squad to stay atop the conference.

“It’s absolutely essential that we play well at home,” he said. “We’ve done well at home thus far, and we have to continue to recognize that it’s going to be a challenge all season long no matter who you play … if we don’t do a great job in our own building then it becomes more challenging. You have to take care of the business at home if you’re going to be a top team.”

The Irish make their only November home appearances this Friday and Saturday. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. Friday night and 5:05 p.m Saturday evening.