Irish look to maintain top rank at UNC
Kit Loughran | Friday, April 22, 2016
The pressure is on for the top-ranked Irish as they head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for a shot at the ACC regular-season title against No. 13 North Carolina.
Beating the Tar Heels (7-5, 2-1) would clinch the ACC regular-season title and the second consecutive unbeaten regular season in the ACC for the Irish. A win Saturday would also give Notre Dame the No. 1 seed in the ACC championship the following week.
“This is obviously a huge game, and we know that they’re going to come out flying Saturday,” senior defenseman Edwin Glazener said. “It’s hard to block out the noise, but we’re just try to dial into practice every day and game day will come along eventually.”
The Irish have clinched the last three wins against the Tar Heels, squeaking out a win last season, 15-14. While Notre Dame leads the overall series, 7-6, the last four contests have been settled by a single goal. This year, the Tar Heels head into the contest after falling, 13-7, Saturday to Syracuse, who the Irish beat 17-7 April 2. Both teams took down Duke by slim margins, with Notre Dame winning 8-6 against the Blue Devils on April 10 and North Carolina sneaking by 17-16 in overtime April 1.
“UNC is always a good team, offensively and defensively,” Glazener said. “They’ve been putting up a lot of goals and do well at the face-off. I think that the most important thing for us is to not play into their game and do what we do best and everything will come together during those 60 minutes.”
Offensively, the Tar Heels have diversified their scoring ability with senior attack Steve Pontrello leading the team with 32 goals, followed by sophomore attack Chris Cloutier with 23 and 10 assists. Notre Dame senior attack Matt Kavanagh goes into the weekend boasting 207 career points and currently leads the Irish in points with 14 goals and 18 assists. But while Kavanagh and the rest of the Irish attack go for the net, Glazener said the defense plays a key role in helping their counterparts get there.
“UNC has a strong offense that scores in a variety of ways,” Glazener said. “Our defense plays best in the half-field game, so it’s going to be a team effort to make sure that we execute the ride well and don’t give up transition.”
The Irish have had time to work on those transitions coming off a bye weekend. Notre Dame hosted Marquette in a midweek, non-conference matchup April 13 but took the following weekend off.
“We felt like this was a good time to get a bye weekend,” Glazener said. “Ten games in, some guys definitely needed the rest, and others needed to take the time improve in other areas heading into the end of the season. … We used the bye weekend for us, to get better at the things that we do, not tailoring anything towards UNC.”
Now, returning to one last contest of regular-season ACC play, the Irish have had the chance to look back at the last 10 games and confidently move on to their next opponents in Chapel Hill before heading into the postseason.
“I think the most important thing we’ve learned over these last 10 games is that when we play loosely and confidently, teams will have a hard time stopping us,” Glazener said. “We played our best game of the year against a good Syracuse team at their place, and it was because we played with confidence and were having fun.”
Notre Dame and North Carolina close out the ACC regular season Saturday at noon at Kenan Stadium.