Irish travel to Boston after strong home stand
Brian Plamondon | Thursday, January 22, 2015
Notre Dame looks to build off a strong performance last weekend when it travels to Boston for a pair of Hockey East games against Northeastern.
Notre Dame (10-11-3, 5-2-3 Hockey East) is coming off a 1-0-1 weekend in a home-and-home series against Connecticut, in which senior defenseman Robbie Russo netted four goals and earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors. His hat trick, part of a 6-1 Irish victory Sunday, was the first by a Notre Dame defenseman since 1988. Russo’s 24 points now give him the season lead among all defensemen nationally.
“I just think [Russo] is finally playing up to his potential,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Sometimes it takes kids a little longer. It’s really about him taking the responsibility of his ability level.”
The Irish now turn their attention to Northeastern, a team looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. The Huskies (8-11-4, 4-7-2 Hockey East) return to action after also going 1-0-1 this past weekend against No. 12 Vermont. Jackson said he believes the Huskies have gotten back into the right mindset after a tough start to the season.
“I think the biggest thing is that their goaltender [redshirt senior Clay Witt] is playing more like he did last year,” Jackson said. “That’s a big part of it, since preseason he was considered one of the top goalies in the country coming back.”
Witt, a Hobey Baker Award candidate last year after sporting a 2.37 GAA, is just 5-6-2 this year while carrying a 2.75 GAA.
The Huskies strongest play this year has come from their forwards, as sophomore forward Dalen Hedges finds himself tied for third in Hockey East with 16 assists. Junior forward Kevin Roy has been a catalyst as well, adding 12 points on the power play, good for a tie for first in the conference.
The duo looks to continue a run of Northeastern success against Notre Dame. The Huskies have taken three of the last four games from the Irish over the past three seasons, including handing the Irish a 9-2 drubbing in 2011.
“They’ve given us fits in the [offensive zone] over the last three years,” Jackson said. “They’re very good in the offensive zone and very good on the power play.”
As a result, Jackson said playing well on the penalty kill will be key and overall team defense will be a focal point.
“We still have to play our game,” Jackson said. “We’ve made progress over the last several weeks as far as our transition game … our special teams have been better for us.”
After capturing his 400th collegiate victory on Saturday, Jackson said he prefers to shy away from the spotlight and focus on the road ahead.
“It’s about the journey,” Jackson said. “It’s about the people involved in those 400 victories. Coaching is all about moments … they don’t happen enough. But the only win that matters to me is the next one. I would trade all 400 victories if it meant a chance to win a national championship at the University of Notre Dame — that’s the ultimate.”
Notre Dame battles Northeastern on Friday and Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston, with the puck dropping both nights at 7 p.m.