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Hockey: Compton’s Challenger

By Isaac Lorton | Friday, November 8, 2013

The No. 4 Irish will play host to unbeaten No. 1 Minnesota tonight and Saturday night in a premier matchup between two of the country’s top teams.

The Gophers (5-0-1) have not played at Notre Dame (6-2-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East) since Feb. 29, 1980. 

In their most recent meeting Jan. 8, Notre Dame lost 4-1 to then-No. 1 Minnesota. This time around, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the team would look to overcome the dynamic Gophers.  

“They are a great program for us to play,” Jackson said of the Gophers. “I would expect both games to be at a high tempo. Two skating teams. It’s just a matter if our depth can handle theirs.” 

Minnesota coach Don Lucia, a 1981 Notre Dame graduate, was on the Irish roster when Minnesota last played in South Bend. Irish sophomore center Mario Lucia chose to play for his dad’s alma mater, rather than the team his dad coaches now. This will be the second meeting between father and son. Last season, Mario Lucia, a Plymouth, Minn., native, played in front of his home crowd after a 12-hour flight and a week of playing for the United States Under-20 National Team in Russia.    

“There is going to be pressure for [Mario Lucia] in this game no matter what,” Jackson said. “But I don’t think it is going to be as bad as last year.”     

Notre Dame enters tonight’s game riding a 10-game home winning streak. Jackson credited the new atmosphere and enthusiasm at the Compton Family Ice Arena for the team’s home success.

“We have this beautiful new building now,” Jackson said. “When our students are all here, when they show up, and the band is here, the environment is outstanding. I am hoping that Saturday night with the game at 8 o’clock, we still get a good showing. It makes a big difference to our team and it makes a big difference to the environment.”

Jackson said the Irish need to take advantage of the opportunities they get against the Gophers this weekend.

“They are not only talented offensively but because of their speed, they also defend well,” Jackson said of the Gophers. “They put pressure on you defensively because they are fast. Even if they make a mistake, they can recover from it.”

Despite it’s current ranking, Minnesota is 4-for-28 on the power play, only converting on 14.3 percent of its chances. However, Notre Dame has also been struggling to convert on the power play, going 10-for-65 for a 15.4 percent conversion rate.   

“Everybody looks at us and says we should be doing better with our skill level, but it is so much more than skill,” Jackson said. “It is about the grit of getting pucks back; it’s about winning face-offs; it’s about the chemistry of the group. And I’m sure, [the Gophers] are like us right now; they are searching for the right chemistry.”

Minnesota has sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox as a safety net between the pipes. This season, Wilcox has a 1.64 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.  

“Wilcox in goal has made them that much better,” Jackson said. “As a freshman last year, he was really good. So as a sophomore with a year under his belt, I expect him to be even tougher than he was last year.”

Notre Dame will look to take down the nation’s top team tonight at 8:05 p.m. and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at the Compton Family Ice Arena. 

Contact Isaac Lorton at [email protected]