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Irish set for Hockey East opener

| Friday, October 30, 2015

Fresh off of a pair of 3-3 draws with No. 5 Minnesota Duluth during its opening regular season homestand, Notre Dame now prepares to travel to Connecticut for a pair of tilts against the Huskies this weekend.

The Irish (1-1-2) will attempt to earn their first victory in two weeks Saturday as they face UConn (3-2-0), which is coming off a 5-2 victory at home against No. 7 Boston University on Tuesday.

Sophomore defenseman, left green jersey, celebrates a goal with teammatesMonica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer
Sophomore defenseman, left green jersey, celebrates a goal with teammates sophomore left wing Anders Bjork, middle green, and senior left wing Mario Lucia during Notre Dame’s 3-1 victory over Boston College on Feb. 28 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Huskies have averaged 3.8 goals per game to start its season and has yet to lose at home.

The Irish have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than three goals in a single game this season, which has forced the offense to try to keep pace. Still, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said he was confident his team is ready to turn the corner defensively — particularly in regards to the penalty kill.

“Considering the week before, I thought we made some really good progress on our penalty kill,” Jackson said. “I also thought [sophomore goaltender Cal Petersen] was much more focused — I think those two things might be tied together a little bit. The penalties were a problem, but on Saturday I thought we came out with a lot of energy and a lot of speed [on the penalty kill].”

Jackson also lauded the efforts of the highly-ranked Minnesota Duluth squad.

“You have to give Duluth a lot of credit, because they’re a good team,” he said. “There’s always give and take with every opponent — but I expect them to be in the hunt at the end of the year, in the national tournament.”

Jackson said he paid particular attention to the play of his defensive pairings over the weekend, hoping to see some improvement despite some shifts in the lineup. Jackson said he would reward practice work effort with ice time.

“It’s about trying to give guys a look,” Jackson said. “If they’re working hard in practice, then I felt they deserved a chance. We’ll continue to do that even on defense.”

Junior defenseman Justin Wade and his fellow blue-liner freshman Dennis Gilbert earned praise from Jackson on Wednesday. Jackson said he liked what he saw from the unit — even if he had never intended them to play together.

Junior defenseman Justin Wade surveys the ice during a  2-0 loss to Boston College on Feb. 27 at Compton Family Ice Arena.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Junior defenseman Justin Wade surveys the ice during a 2-0 loss to Boston College on Feb. 27 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

“It actually happened by accident Friday night with Andy Ryan getting thrown out,” Jackson said. “We saw something positive putting together [Dennis Gilbert and Justin Wade]. … That’s how things happen sometimes, by accident. It’s a balancing act.”

Wade, a native of Aurora, Illinois, said he was simply happy for the opportunity to play for the Irish. He came to Notre Dame by way of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and only began to focus on hockey after giving up football in middle school.

“Sixth-grade year, when I missed one football game for a hockey game, my football coach told me to quit,” Wade said.

From high school hockey to the USHL to Hockey East, Wade said he has seen a great deal of change in the way that teams play.

“It’s interesting because Duluth is a skill team,” Wade said. “But Penn [State] was more of what I was used to from the USHL. They were very aggressive and fast. Going to Hockey East, it’s just execution and positioning. If you get out of position, if you don’t execute, Hockey East capitalizes quick.”

The Irish and Huskies are scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s puck drop is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. at XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, while Sunday’s action will take place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The teams will face off at 2:35 p.m.

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