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Vermont awaits ND, Petersen

| Friday, February 5, 2016

Notre Dame will try to bounce back from its first defeat since late November and create a new unbeaten streak when it heads to Vermont for a pair of conference games this weekend.

The No. 10 Irish (14-5-7, 10-2-2 Hockey East), after falling to rival and then-No. 5 Boston College at home last weekend, will now turn their attention to the Catamounts (11-14-2, 5-7-2).

And with only four weekends left before the start of the postseason and arguably the toughest stretch of the season still left to play for the Irish, this is when games start to mean the most, according to head coach Jeff Jackson.

“You know they’re looking [at the standings],” Jackson said of his team. “I’m just trying not to magnify it, to make it worse, because I’m sure they’re looking. They see where they are in the league or where they are in the NCAA picture, and it’s way too early to start thinking about that in my opinion. We have probably the toughest schedule of any Hockey East team here in the last month, going to Vermont and then Providence and BU, and we cannot fall asleep against Maine. So it’s going to be a tough five, six weeks.”

A big part of the reason Notre Dame has been so successful in recent months has been the emergence of sophomore goalie Cal Petersen, who Wednesday was named Hockey East goaltender of the month for his 1.89 goals against average and .940 save percentage in January.

“It’s been great,” Petersen said. “For me, it’s the position that I want to be in. I love playing every game. I love being the guy that’s called on every night, and I think that’s helped my confidence a lot. The team knows what they’re going to get out of me each night, which is a good thing in there. I’m able to build a good relationship with my defense. I think the cohesiveness between that has been going well.”

Irish sophomore goaltender Cal Petersen attempts to keep the puck out of his net during a 7-2 victory over Merrimack on Jan. 15. Petersen was recently named Hockey East goalie of the month for January.Kelly Vaughn | The Observer
Irish sophomore goaltender Cal Petersen attempts to keep the puck out of his net during a 7-2 victory over Merrimack on Jan. 15. Petersen was recently named Hockey East goalie of the month for January.

Now that the fifth-longest unbeaten streak in team history has been snapped, the challenge for the Irish this weekend will be to get back on track when they face an improving Catamounts team on the road.

“I think this week we had one of our best practice weeks of the year, which is great,” Petersen said. “I’m sure it’s been said before, and I think the guys realize we were a little off last week. And obviously the game didn’t start well on Friday with that kind of weird, fluky goal, but I think it was good for us to get burned a little bit. I think we were maybe a little bit okay with having an off day, but I think the best part about it is we came back this week and the guys were a little bit pissed off, which should translate well this weekend.”

Jackson added Vermont’s high-paced style of play will be a challenge for Notre Dame all weekend, especially at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

“I expect [Vermont] to be aggressive, tenacious,” Jackson said. “They come at you in waves. They’re very aggressive, they play physical. They’re an aggressive fore-checking team. They play well in their building. They have a great high ceiling and student section that creates an environment that’s intimidating.

“It’s a darker building so it’s a little different in that regard too. It’s got real wide corners, deep behind the goal line. It’s like 15 feet from the goal line to the back boards, so you have a lot of space behind the net. Defensively, you have to make sure you don’t get stretched out, almost like an Olympic-sheet situation. And the same thing offensively, you take advantage of that additional space.”

Petersen reiterated the words of his coach, saying Vermont had some injuries at the beginning of the year but is starting to come into form as the season winds down.

“They’re very skilled,” Petersen said. “I think, especially going into their rink, it’s going to be a big challenge. They’ve beaten some big teams. Really probably our four hardest weekends of the year are coming up here, so it’ll be really important for us to end strong.”

As the regular season begins to wind down, the Irish turn their attention solely to the Catamounts, whom they will meet twice this weekend. The puck drops both Friday and Saturday nights at 7:05 p.m. at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vermont.

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