Irish head to Maine for crucial conference series
Benjamin Horvath | Friday, February 6, 2015
Notre Dame travels to the East Coast this weekend to take on Maine in a pair of crucial Hockey East conference games.
The Irish (11-14-3, 6-5-3 Hockey East) split this past weekend’s series against conference foe New Hampshire, losing 5-2 Friday night and winning 5-3 Saturday.
Currently, Notre Dame is tied for fifth place in the Hockey East, trailing first-place Boston University by nine points. Maine (10-16-2, 5-8-1) is 10th in the conference, trailing the Irish by four points.
Sophomore center Vince Hinostroza, who is currently tied for the team scoring lead with 25 points on the season, said that despite the team’s inconsistencies this season, the Irish are still within striking distance in the conference standings.
“We’re still in pretty good shape in our conference, and we only have conference games left, so we just have to take it period-by-period and game-by-game,” Hinostroza said.
With eight conference games remaining, the Irish are just two points behind Providence for the all-important fourth slot in the conference standings. The top four teams in the Hockey East host a best-of-three quarterfinal series in the Hockey East tournament and do not have to play in the tournament’s one-game first round.
Hinostroza tallied a trio of assists against New Hampshire, and his recent offense has been integral to Notre Dame’s recent turnaround on the power play unit. Through Jan. 10, the Irish power play unit ranked last in the country in goals scored. Since that date, the Irish have scored a power play goal in seven straight games, with Hinostroza notching one goal and four assists in extra man advantage situations.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson said his team’s newfound offensive firepower is due to finding the right chemistry with the power play units.
“The last [seven] games the power play has been a big positive,” Jackson said. “I think those groups that we have now are pretty much set for the most part.”
In addition to continued success on the power play, Jackson also said the Irish will need to take care of the puck at the blue lines, something his squad has struggled with at times this year.
“There are certain things that have haunted us consistently this season, and one of those things is the players’ will to make good plays with the puck and not turn it over at the blue lines,” Jackson said.
Jackson think that this will be a difficult road test for the Irish, describing Alfond Arena, the home of the Black Bears, as a “very tough building to play in.”
“It’s a smaller venue, but the fans are right on top of you, and when you have that kind of crowd, you have to be prepared for the intimidation factor as a visiting team,” Jackson said.
Given the expected raucousness of the home crowd this weekend, Jackson said he views the two games as an opportunity for the young Irish squad to mature.
“My hope is that we’ll be able to grow this weekend because this is the toughest place that we’ll have played in since probably Minnesota [on Nov. 7-9],” Jackson said.
To prepare his team for the type of road environment he expects, Jackson said he has increased tempo during team practices this week.
“We’ve been practicing at a higher pace and trying to create a little chaos during practices because that’s the kind of atmosphere we’re going to face when we play there,” Jackson said.
Hinostroza said he feeds off energetic environments, as he enjoys “trying to shut the home crowd up.”
“In stadiums like that, sometimes it starts to feel like the game starts to move a little faster, but we just need to realize that if we play our own game, we’ll be good,” Hinostroza said.
Jackson also mentioned the game speed as a factor in this weekend’s matchups and said taking care of the puck is crucial in making sure the Black Bears’ team speed is kept in check.
“They’re a quick team,” Jackson said of the Black Bears. “But their team speed and transition game can be eliminated if we protect the puck and do a good job of handling it around the blue lines.”
Notre Dame will square off against Maine tonight and Saturday at Alfond Arena in Orono, Maine, with the puck dropping both nights at 7:05 p.m.