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Irish return home to face Maine

| Thursday, February 6, 2014

No.18 Notre Dame returns to the confines of Compton Ice Arena this weekend to host conference foe Maine, hoping to snap a two-game losing spree after last weekend’s winless road trip.

The Irish (15-11-1, 4-8-1) remain in eighth place in the Hockey East after their sweep at the hands of New Hampshire, two spots behind Maine (12-9-3, 6-4-2). Last weekend continued a season-long trend of road struggles for the Irish, who fell to 3-7 away from Compton. Their home record, however, sits at a robust 12-4-1, including a 5-1 record since returning from break. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the Irish must continue to play well at home because their troubles on the road have left them with little margin for error.

“We have to get back on track at home,” Jackson said. “We just have to get back on track. We’ve had a difficult time on the road in Hockey East games, and we still have three of them left. So we got to try to get points.”

The Irish fell 4-2 and 5-2 against the Wildcats (16-13-1, 8-6) last weekend, giving them five consecutive road losses. New Hampshire was able to hold the Irish scoreless on seven power play chances. Sophomore left wing Mario Lucia had a pair of goals in the series, and seniors center TJ Tynan and right wing Bryan Rust each chipped in one as well. According to Jackson, the Irish created enough chances, but didn’t convert them as efficiently as the Wildcats converted theirs.

“On the weekend we actually out-chanced them,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we got to the net well enough … and we then we broke down a few times defensively. We played good enough to lose. It’s frustrating.”

The weekend also showcased the continued inconsistent play of senior goalie Steven Summerhays. While he leads the country with five shutouts, Summerhays has also allowed four or more goals in three out of the past four games. Jackson said the Irish defense is allowing too many quality looks to opponents, and that Summerhays’ confidence will rise if the Irish can cut down on opposing breakaways.

“We left him out to dry, and that’s hard for a goalie … that’s trying to develop his confidence,” Jackson said. “He’s not facing 30 shots, but he’s facing 2-on-1s and breakaways. Eliminating those odd-man rushes, that’s the first priority in my opinion.”

Maine’s most recent opponent was also New Hampshire, as the Black Bears and Wildcats split a series on Jan. 24-25. Coming into its trip to Notre Dame, Maine has yet to notch a victory on the road this season, pairing eight losses with two ties. The Black Bears, however, will be fresh this weekend after having the previous one off. With 12 goals and 19 assists on the season, sophomore forward Devin Shore paces Maine’s offense, which can also count on two-way threat Ben Hutton, a sophomore whose nine goals make him one of the more prolific defensemen in the country. In goal, senior Martin Ouellette has started 23 games and allows just over two goals allowed in his appearances.

The Irish attack on Ouellette will be led by Lucia, sophomore left wing Sam Herr, Tynan and freshman center Vinnie Hinostroza. Lucia’s pair of goals last weekend gave him a team-leading 15 on the season, while Tynan’s 21 assists give him three more than the second-place Hinostroza. Jackson said he was pleased with how the new combination of Hinostroza, Lucia and sophomore center Thomas DiPauli played before Hinostroza left Saturday’s game with an injury. Jackson said he hopes other lines will help Lucia shoulder the scoring load.

“Some of the guys that were scoring, aren’t scoring right now,” Jackson said. “Lucia seems to continue to score, but we need more than two goals a game. [Lucia] and Hinostroza have developed pretty good chemistry and an ability to find each other.”

With the season ticking down, the Irish will start their penultimate home series of the season Friday at 7:35 p.m. against Maine at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

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