ND to host UMass for pair of games
Brett O'Connell | Friday, December 4, 2015
The Irish continue their Hockey East campaign this weekend as they host Massachusetts for a pair of conference games.
This series will mark the first time the two conference foes have met since last year’s Hockey East tournament, when the Irish (6-4-4, 3-1-2 Hockey East) dropped the first game against the Minutemen (6-5-4, 2-2-4) in what became the longest game in NCAA history. Current Massachusetts senior forward Shane Walsh scored the game winner in the fifth overtime following 151 minutes and 42 seconds of game play, over two-and-a-half times the usual 60-minute regulation time.
The Irish bounced back, however, winning games two and three to claim the series.
The two teams enter this weekend tied for third place in the Hockey East, though Massachusetts has played two more conference games than the Irish.
Sophomore winger Anders Bjork has faced the Minutemen five times in his young Notre Dame career, tallying two assists against the Minutemen. Bjork paces this year’s Irish squad in plus-minus and trails only senior assistant captain and center Thomas DiPauli and fellow sophomore winger Jake Evans for the team lead in points with 12. According to Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, Bjork has noticeably improved since last year.
“He’s been doing better,” Jackson said. “I think penalty killing is a part of it. He’s on the power play, he’s on the penalty kill — as a sophomore he has a lot of responsibilities. He just has to recognize that he has to do things a bit more disciplined, especially on the penalty kill, if he’s going to be successful.”
Bjork’s recent success comes despite some frustrations with pressing too much on offense, Jackson said, but the coach also said Bjork’s ambition may open a number of doors for him, including a possible roster spot on the 2016 U.S. World Junior Championship team that begins play Dec. 26 against Canada in Helsinki.
“Ego’s a bad thing, but it’s also a good thing,” Jackson said. “We want to see [Bjork] make the national junior team. We want to see all of our kids have success in those types of situations. … But the problem is that they get wrapped up in trying to get the result before focusing on the process. I think that’s what hurt Anders: He was trying to get away from the details of the game. He was too busy pressing and trying to score.”
Bjork said he has learned a great deal in his still young collegiate hockey career. He expressed as much Wednesday when he addressed how he was learning to cope with the grind of the collegiate hockey season.
“I learned a lot [last year] about how to be disciplined and stay focused,” Bjork said. “It’s a long season and there are a lot of ups and downs. Especially in college hockey, every team’s competitive. You just have to stay positive and not get frustrated. That applies both individually and as a team.”
Speaking as a team, the Irish will attempt to rectify this weekend what Bjork identified as a strange trend for himself and his teammates. The Irish have struggled on home ice thus far this season, an anomaly Bjork said the team hopes to correct starting this weekend.
“Something we’ve been trying to focus on as a team is to improve our record at home,” Bjork said. “We want to get some more wins and get the atmosphere better around here.”
Better perhaps, but not as crazy as things got in the postseason last year, when the Irish fought through five overtime periods against the Minutemen on home ice. Bjork afforded a weary chuckle when asked about the circumstances surrounding that particular tilt.
“I think everyone’s thinking about it a little bit,” Bjork said. “It was an unusual game.”
Bjork said his team is ready for anything this time around.
“Anything can happen in a hockey game – you’ve just got to keep persevering when those crazy things happen,” he said.
“Still, hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
The Irish open their home series against the Minutemen on Friday, at 7:35 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena. The puck is scheduled to drop at 6:10 p.m. Saturday night.