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Hockey Commentary: The hunt for consistency

Allan Joseph | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five weeks from now, the No. 9 Irish will be playing in their first CCHA playoff game. If they don’t fix a problem that has been plaguing them all season, however, it could very well be their only postseason game.

The Irish (16-9-3, 13-6-1-1 CCHA) have struggled with consistency all year long. The season begin in St. Louis, where Notre Dame dominated Holy Cross before falling 5-4 to No. 16 Boston University. The Irish then reeled off four consecutive wins and a tie before dropping a winnable game at Bowling Green on a weekend that came to be the first of many up-and-down series. Jeff Jackson’s squad rebounded the next night to take the win and carried that momentum into a 3-1 victory in a tough environment at Michigan. Of course, the Irish dropped the second game in the series.

After those weekends, the young Notre Dame squad has had issues finding its stride for consecutive games. The Irish split series at North Dakota, Miami and Ohio State, as well as at home against Northern Michigan and Alaska. Notre Dame also struggled in the Shillelagh Tournament against an inferior Minnesota State team but tied No. 2 Boston University the next night that began with the home opener, the Irish have managed only one three-game win streak.

Tough road series have opened with ugly losses (6-3 at North Dakota and 6-1 at Ohio State), only to see the Irish bounce back in the second games. Just as often, the squad has taken the first game with ease and then allowed the second game of the series to slip away.

Don’t think the Irish aren’t aware of the issue.

“We obviously haven’t been that consistent this year,” senior forward Ridderwall said.

The key for Notre Dame will be finding a way to balance their emotions over two games, especially for the young players. The first game of a road series can be intimidating, especially in an arena such as North Dakota’s that seats nearly 13,000 fans. On the flip side, winning the first game at home leads to a sense of complacency that can come back on Saturday night. In the regular season, that just leads to one extra mark in the “L” column. But as the chase for the CCHA crown winds down and games start becoming more and more evocative of playoff hockey, consistency will be extremely important. Even one lackluster game can derail an entire season of hard work. Developing an even keel now will pay big dividends in the future.

“When we finally realize it’s not that hard to do, it just kind of keeps building,” Ridderwall said. “I think building confidence on previous wins will be huge.”

The Irish aren’t short on talent. The freshman class has exceeded everyone’s expectations and has put Notre Dame in a position to capture the CCHA crown in Joe Louis Arena. With the season getting shorter and shorter, now would be as good a time as any for the Irish to learn to play with the maturity they’ll need to get to the top.