Irish, Eagles set for important Hockey East showdown
Brett O'Connell | Friday, January 29, 2016
Notre Dame seeks to extend its nation-leading 12-game unbeaten streak as they host rival Boston College on Friday night in the second game of the season series.
Since the wild conclusion to the teams’ first meeting of the year, in which the Irish clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to win on freshman defenseman Dennis Gilbert’s goal with 22 seconds remaining in regulation.
The two teams have established themselves as top-10 collections of talent in college hockey. Boston College (16-4-4, 9-1-4 HEA) enters this weekend’s play ranked fifth overall while the Irish (14-4-7, 10-1-2 HEA) earned their first top-10 ranking of the season this past week as they ascended to the No. 10 spot in the polls.
Both teams are well primed for postseason play, and both will look to take advantage of an opportunity to claim the top spot in the conference standings on Friday night. The Irish and the Eagles are tied for second place in Hockey East with 22 points each. Both teams trail conference frontrunner UMass Lowell by a single point.
Despite Notre Dame’s relatively recent entry into Hockey East, they are no strangers to the Boston College hockey team. The two have faced off 40 total times, with the series record almost dead even (BC leads the all-time series by a hair, 20-18-2).
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson did not hesitate when calling the Eagles one of Notre Dame’s biggest and most enduring hockey rivals.
“When we play BC, it’s a top-10 matchup,” Jackson said. “This year it is, and hopefully every year it is. BC is constantly in the top 10 in hockey, so you’re not just talking about playing a rival, you’re talking about playing one of the top three or four teams in hockey.”
Despite the teams’ familiarity with one another, Jackson denied any sort of predictability to the matchup, though he said his team would have to play some of its best, most disciplined hockey in order to walk away with a win on Friday.
“Against any good teams, you have to play with discipline,” Jackson said. “Penalties become a factor. Turnovers become a factor. And frankly, you’re going to have to have great goaltending. We’re going to have to make sure that we protect the puck and stay out of the box.”
Jackson said focus and maturity will be some of the main determining factors against the Eagles. He credited his senior class with controlling the mood and focus of the locker room this season, one that includes a combined 15 freshmen and sophomores.
“The teams that have played BC here in the past and won have been more mature,” Jackson said. “More upperclassmen. We beat them here last year, but we were chasing more than we were playing.
“We have a really good senior class. Even though two-thirds of our team are freshmen and sophomores, the senior class is still in charge and they’re still the leaders of this team. They’ve done a really good job of making sure the sophomores and the freshmen feel acclimated. I give them a lot of credit for the culture and camaraderie of our team because they’re the ones molding things behind the scenes.”
As good as the senior class has been, a pair of sophomores have taken to leading by example over the last 12 games.
Sophomore forward Anders Bjork has scored seven goals and tallied eight assists over the stretch, leading the team in points during the undefeated streak. Sophomore starting goaltender Cal Petersen has also earned national attention, posting a 1.58 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage during the streak. Petersen’s numbers earned him his third Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday, his second such award over the course of the streak.
The Irish will look to add to those stats and claim second place in the conference standings this Friday as they face off for a rematch against the Eagles at 7:35 p.m. at the Compton Family Ice Arena.