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Hockey: Irish set for rematch with WMU

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, November 21, 2011

After beating then-No. 3 Boston College on a last-second overtime goal Friday, the No. 2 Irish will take on another familiar foe in No. 12 Western Michigan.

Last Tuesday, Notre Dame (9-2-2, 6-1-2-0 CCHA) beat the Broncos 3-2 at the Compton Family Ice Arena behind junior center Riley Sheahan’s two goals.

“Both goals were kind of lucky I guess,” Sheahan said. “I [was] just focusing, visualizing before the game, thinking I could go out there and make some offensive impact. That’s something I’ve been trying to do this year.”

Sheahan, who now has four goals and nine assists on the season, is trying to take some of the scoring load off sophomore left wing Anders Lee and sophomore center T.J. Tynan. Lee and Tynan lead the CCHA in goals and assists, respectively.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Anders and T.J., and they’ve been doing a great job,” Sheahan said. “It’s good to have some spread out scoring and we’ve been lucky to have that. I’d like to keep up the effort I’ve been giving. It feels better when you can contribute a little on the score sheet.”

Following a big win against Boston College, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he is concerned about a possible aftereffect from such a draining game.

“That’s always a concern after a big win,” Jackson said. “They practiced pretty well yesterday, and hopefully we can have a good skate today. It’s a matter of just getting refocused for three tough road games.”

Sheahan said that the team can overcome the potential distractions to focus on the games ahead.

“We just have to come out and focus,” Sheahan said. “It was a fun game, but it’s over now and we can’t think about it, we can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about each shift at a time.”

The Broncos (6-4-3, 4-4-1-1) have not played since losing to the Irish 3-2 on Nov. 15 and carry a four-game losing streak heading into tonight’s matchup.

“We’re playing there, which makes it a lot more challenging,” Jackson said. “It was a very hard-fought game [and] could’ve gone either way. We were fortunate enough to get a two-goal lead, and they still came back on us and made it challenging.”

Conversely, the Irish will be playing their fifth game in 12 days, including their third in a row against a ranked opponent.

“We’re a pretty well-conditioned team. We work pretty hard off the ice,” Sheahan said. “All the guys work pretty hard in the weight room, so I don’t think conditioning will be a factor.”

Notre Dame will also be playing its second straight Tuesday night game, an anomaly in college hockey.

“Mid-week games are a bit more difficult, but I’d rather be on the road for it,” Jackson said. “Our guys will be able to focus on the game throughout the day and get themselves ready to play.”

In the Broncos’ loss to Notre Dame, Western Michigan freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski stopped 18 Irish shots. His 2.15 goals against average currently ranks 19th in the nation.

This weekend, Notre Dame will head north to take on No. 13 Lake Superior State in a two-game series.

“You have to [grind out wins],” Jackson said. “It will be the same way at Lake Superior. Everybody projects [Western Michigan] to be a top team in our conference, and Lake [Superior] State is a top team in our conference. These will be tough, gritty games on the road. It’s hard to win on the road in the CCHA.”

The Lakers (9-3-2, 5-2-1-1) currently sit in fourth place in the CCHA, six points behind conference-leading Ohio State. Junior forward Nick McParland leads the team with seven goals and six assists, while sophomore goaltender Kevin Kapalka has started all but one game.

“The next three games are going to be extremely difficult,” Jackson said.

The Irish and Broncos faceoff at 7:35 p.m. tonight at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo, Mich. Notre Dame and Lake Superior State take the ice Friday and Saturday at Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The contests each start at 7:05 p.m.


Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]