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Hockey: Team aims to end recent slide

By Isaac Lorton | Friday, January 18, 2013

After completing a four-game road trip in seven days with a 1-3 record, the Irish look to return to their winning ways against Alaska at home tonight. While away, Notre Dame (15-7-0, 11-3-0 CCHA) lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, to Michigan State and Bowling Green.

The rough spell on the road does not worry Irish coach Jeff Jackson heading into the series with Alaska (7-8-5, 6-7-3 CCHA).

“Well, it’s not a fluke,” Jackson said. “But it’s not a trend either. Bowling Green is playing the best hockey they’ve been playing all season. Michigan State, we have played four times within a month. And it’s hard to beat a team four times within a month. We had chances in that game but we self-destructed a little bit in the second period.

“Minnesota is a game unto itself, because they are such a high-quality opponent on the road and we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be early in the stages of that game. … They are all different games. I am not nervous at this point. I am just wanting to get through this weekend and get back to a normal routine.”

During the beginning of the season, the Irish struggled to match the intensity from the first to second period. Jackson said the team must maintain level of play throughout the game.

“I think that it’s almost a little déjà vu, not from last season, but from the beginning of this season,” Jackson said. “We overcame it during that stretch where we were winning games, but it’s about keeping that emotional level for three periods. Right now, our second periods hurt us in each one of the four games and we had that issue early in the year. It’s a competitive thing and a mindset. When we come off the ice at the end of the first, we have to make sure that mentally we are ready for that second period.”

Junior defenseman Stephen Johns said a successful weekend series against Alaska will help secure Notre Dame’s spot atop the CCHA, and, even more importantly, determine the trajectory of the team for the rest of the season.

“Especially with our juniors and seniors this year, we all made it to the Frozen Four my freshman year and then the season we had last year, we don’t want to go through another thing like that,” he said. “I think we are a mature group enough to where we understand we can’t let this slip away from us.”

Johns said the defense can pick up the slack, but the Irish see this weekend as an opportunity to reestablish themselves.
“It’s the first time we have lost two in a row all year,” Johns said. “You could definitely tell guys were kind of in shock. We didn’t expect to lose. I mean we never expect to lose, but to lose two in a row to teams we knew we should have beat, I think guys after the Bowling Green game were already looking to this weekend to get vengeance on other opponents.”

Johns said this mindset has been remained since the Bowling Green game on Jan. 15 and the Irish are prepared for the Nanooks on Friday and Saturday.

“We have some great leaders on this team who were reiterating how important this weekend is to us,” he said. “This could be a major decider for the rest of our season. So, the guys are really making sure we play this weekend like it is our last weekend of the year. … I think it is a huge weekend for us.”

Johns said returning home will be positive for Notre Dame, which has not played in the Compton Family Ice Arena for more than a month.

“Playing at home is awesome,” Johns said. “You feel more comfortable and you get to go through your own routines in your own rink. Just being at home you feel better about yourself. … You feel more confident, especially with the fans, not cheering Alaska, not cheering other chants. We have been good at home this year and we are looking to keep it up.”

The Irish begin a four-game home stand this Friday at 7:35 pm at Compton Family Ice Arena, where they look to get back on track against Alaska.

Contact Isaac Lorton at [email protected]