Squad faces familiar foe
Kit Loughran | Thursday, March 6, 2014
No. 6 Notre Dame will take a break from ACC play and the freezing cold this weekend to travel to sunny Costa Mesa, Calif., for the Pacific Coast Shootout.
The Irish (2-1, 1-0 ACC) square off against West Coast rival No. 12 Denver (3-2, 0-0 Big East) on Saturday. The Irish and Pioneers are no strangers on the field, and Saturday’s matchup will bring the competitive history between the two programs back to the surface. The out-of-conference rivals have battled into overtime two years in a row, with the Irish securing the win both times by only one goal.
Notre Dame rallied in 2012 to beat Denver 10-9 in triple overtime, and last season the Irish held on again to win 13-12 in extra time. This time around, the Irish anticipate another stiff challenge as they aim to continue their winning streak against the Pioneers.
“Denver is a really good team, and it’s always a tough test,” senior captain and defenseman Stephen O’Hara said. “The past games in the last two years have been extremely close with just a one goal margin, and they are always good offensively and defensively and well-coached, so it will definitely be a good game this time around.”
The Irish head into the matchup with momentum after an 11-10 comeback victory over No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels (3-1, 0-1 ACC) led 8-3 at the beginning of the third quarter, but the Irish overcame the five-goal deficit to clinch their first victory in their new conference. With its focus now on Denver, Notre Dame hopes to maintain the energy and intensity it exerted in the second half.
“We need to carry over that momentum from the fourth quarter into this game against Denver,” O’Hara said. “Hopefully that can translate into a quicker start so that we do not have to go down as many goals to get things going.”
The Irish, determined to initiate a quicker start, are not straying from their standard play procedure and fundamentals, O’Hara said.
“Heading into this game, our focus is on the things we do well,” O’Hara said. “Our strategy is set on playing as a team, IQ and trying to do the little things. Our focus is on us.”
While the Irish focus on themselves, the Pioneers are looking to avenge their 12-10 loss to No. 20 Penn on Saturday. Denver could not hold off a four-goal rally by the Quakers in the last 10 minutes of play. The Pioneers boast a top-15 offense, led by junior attackman Wesley Berg and senior captain midfielder Jeremy Noble. Denver has 63 goals on the season with an average of 12.6 goals per game, while allowing 9.2 on defense.
Both Berg and Noble hail from Canada, and use a different style of play than the Irish are used to facing. The difference in technique is something of which the Irish, particularly the defense, are acutely aware.
“Denver has a really good offense and knows exactly what it is trying to get out of it, and they have a lot of Canadians, which makes their style a little bit different than teams we’ve faced before,” O’Hara said. “We need to put extra emphasis on our communication and stick to playing our style of defense.”
With the chance to build off of their win against North Carolina, the Irish take on Denver in the Pacific Coast Shootout on Saturday at noon at Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Contact Kit Loughran at [email protected]