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Lucia hits milestone as Irish sweep Warriors

| Monday, January 18, 2016

Notre Dame extended its unbeaten streak to a nation-best 10 games Saturday night, as the Irish completed their sweep of conference foe Merrimack with a 5-1 victory at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Irish (12-4-7, 8-1-2 Hockey East) also blew past the Warriors (7-11-5, 2-5-5), on Friday in the first game of the weekend series, 7-2.

The pair of weekend home games marked a high point in the team’s recent offensive success, as the Irish dominated the score sheet with 12 goals on the weekend. The Irish defense and sophomore goaltender Cal Petersen also posted a successful weekend, surrendering only three goals and limiting Merrimack to just 16 shots in the second game of the series.

Friday’s game quickly set the tone for what would be an explosive weekend. The Irish opened scoring just a few minutes into the contest, as sophomore center Jake Evans found the puck and fed classmate Anders Bjork in the high slot. Bjork promptly put the puck over the glove-side shoulder of Merrimack sophomore goaltender Collin Delia for his eighth goal of the season. The Irish struggled to find their rhythm in the offensive zone for the remainder of the period, though, managing only five shots on the period to Merrimack’s 13.

The visiting team tied the game at one on something of a fluke play, as Merrimack junior forward Hampus Gustafsson’s shot from below the goal line deflected off the back of Petersen’s right pad and trickled into the net.

The Irish tied the game nine minutes later, though, as senior left wing Mario Lucia scored his fifth goal of the season off a glove-side wrist shot from just outside the crease.

Irish senior left wing Mario Lucia fends off a Merrimack player during Notre Dame’s 7-2 win Friday at Compton Family Ice Arena.Kelly Vaughn | The Observer
Irish senior left wing Mario Lucia fends off a Merrimack player during Notre Dame’s 7-2 win Friday at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Notre Dame asserted itself from there on out. Sophomore forward Andrew Oglevie scored two breakaway goals in a row, including a backhand bid on a breakaway generated off of a lobbed puck from freshman defenseman Bobby Nardella. Oglevie settled the puck at the top of the circle before skating into the crease and slipping the puck five-hole past the Merrimack goaltender.

Merrimack scored one more goal with four minutes remaining in the second period to draw within two, but from there on out the Warrior offense struggled to clear pucks out of its own defensive end. The Irish took advantage of extended offensive possession in the third period, netting three goals and pushing the final score to 7-2.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson praised his team’s offensive production after Friday’s game, paying particular attention to Lucia, who scored two goals and added an assist on the weekend. Lucia, who has recently been moved around the roster in an attempt to rekindle his offensive touch, earned his 100th collegiate point with the Irish on Friday night. Jackson spoke highly of his ability to produce when given the opportunity.

“If we start getting his normal production, then it makes us a much better team,” Jackson said. “That’s why we made the move we did. So far so good.”

Lucia himself admitted he had known about his chance to cross the 100-point mark and gave credit to his linemates past and present for his continued success in the Irish offense.

“It’s cool, definitely, but obviously I wouldn’t be there without my linemates, like [T.J. Tynan and Vincent Hinostroza],” Lucia said. “I told my brother before the game that I was gonna get it tonight. So it was good to get it out of the way and keep moving forward.”

Saturday’s game featured more of the same, with four Irish players notching five goals — senior forward Sam Herr scored twice — while Petersen and the Irish defense limited Merrimack to a single goal on 16 shots.

After Saturday’s game, Jackson lauded his team’s evenly-spread offensive production, especially during the latter stretch of its 10-game unbeaten streak.

“A lot of things have been going pretty positively for us,” Jackson said. “The thing that’s making me happy is a lot of guys are executing what we’re trying to do. I think it’s leading to scoring chances and leading to goals.”

With this weekend’s wins, the Irish find themselves third in the Hockey East, a point behind rival Boston College for second and three points behind UMass Lowell.

The Irish return to action this coming weekend as they travel to New England for a pair of tilts against conference opponent New Hampshire. The first game of the series will take place Friday at 7:05 p.m.

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