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Hockey: ND sits atop tough CCHA

Chris Allen | Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Though it will cease to exist in less than two years, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) is stronger than ever, with eight of the nation’s top 20 teams in the USCHO.com rankings. The No. 4 Irish (14-9-3) are the highest-ranked team in the conference but sit sixth in the conference standings, five points behind No. 6 Ohio State.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the competition for the CCHA regular-season title will stay fierce throughout the remainder of his team’s season.

“Our conference is, right now, proving to be tougher than pretty much any other conference,” Jackson said. “The teams we’re playing now are going to be as, or more, difficult than the team’s we’ve just faced, and that applies every week in this conference.”

Though the Irish and Miami (Ohio) entered the season as national and CCHA favorites, it is the upstart Buckeyes from Ohio State who have surprised many by racing to a top-10 national ranking. They sit atop the CCHA standings, despite coming off a couple of down years.

Jackson’s team is also jostling in the standings with a young Western Michigan squad and a physical Ferris State team, both of whom sit ahead of the Irish with an even number of games played. Irish defenseman and captain Sean Lorenz said the team is focusing on playing loose, rather than looking at the crowded standings.

“We just try to go out and have fun everyday,” Lorenz said. “We want to go out and have fun again, and we need to get back to just enjoying the hockey.”

Lorenz said Jackson has made sure his team stays mentally sharp with only five regular-season series remaining before the CCHA playoffs.

“Coach is just making sure that we stay focused,” Lorenz said.

Though the CCHA race is of prime concern, the Irish no doubt have aspirations to make the field for the 2012 NCAA championship and improve on last year’s defeat in the Frozen Four.

The field will consist of 16 teams, 11 of which will be selected by the Pairwise comparison ranking system.

Notre Dame sits fourth in the most recent Pairwise rankings, one of five CCHA teams in the top 10. Joining Notre Dame are third-ranked Ohio State, fifth-ranked Michigan, and tied-for-sixth Ferris State and Northern Michigan.

Despite the fact that the conference will disband following next season, it appears the CCHA will be heavily represented on the national stage at this season’s end.

Notre Dame hockey fans may have dreams of Hockey East in their heads, but for now, the CCHA is as healthy as ever.