Irish set to face Minutemen on Olympic-sized rink
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, December 1, 2016
No. 12 Notre Dame resumes Hockey East play this weekend with a series against Massachusetts on the Olympic-sized ice at Mullins Center.
Instead of the usual NHL-sized rink that’s 85 feet wide, Olympic-sized ice sheets add another 15 feet in width. Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena has two sheets of ice: the Lefty Smith Rink, the main ice sheet for the Irish (7-5-2, 3-2-1 Hockey East), is NHL-sized, while an Olympic sheet lies adjacent to the main arena specifically for weeks when Notre Dame readies to play teams like the Minutemen (3-7-2, 1-5-1).
“[The larger ice surface] is a factor, and that’s why we’re fortunate we can practice on an Olympic ice sheet this week,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said during media availability Wednesday afternoon.
Jackson added that while the larger rink size opens up room in the offensive zone for what has been an inconsistent Notre Dame attack this season, it also poses its share of challenges offensively.
“Just my experience of having been in international hockey for all those years is that there’s so much room out there, you get lost,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said the team has emphasized getting inside the face-off dots in recent weeks, but on the larger ice surface he believes that will be especially important.
“If you play outside the dots too much, you’re not going to generate a lot of offense,” Jackson said. “You have to offensively still have to try to play inside the dots. And defensively, you can’t get stretched out outside the dots.”
Defending on the big ice also takes an added amount of discipline because offenses have an easier time controlling the puck in the zone, and Jackson said maintaining a presence inside the dots will also be crucial in front of Irish junior netminder Cal Petersen.
“Our defense is fairly mobile, so as long as they don’t get trapped [outside the dots] stepping up on people or getting caught outside the dot with a couple forwards,” Jackson said. “ … We have a rule that you’re not supposed to have more than one guy outside the dots defensively. And that happens occasionally when forwards are back checking, but the defense has to read it and back off more towards the middle.”
Petersen has played well statistically in net for the Irish this season, posting a 2.25 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, but Jackson said the team’s captain still hasn’t reached top form this season.
“I don’t think he’s given us his best games yet,” Jackson said. “He’s had a few really good games for us, but I think there’s more there. We’ve seen it in the past.”
Jackson added that the team has hung Petersen out to dry far too often this season.
“We’ve put him in some very awkward situations,” Jackson said. “When we make a breakdown, we make a good one where they’re getting a really good scoring chance. Not like every once in a while, we’ll give up an occasional breakaway or 2-on-1, but we give up doozies. We’ve given up some 2-on-0s where our defense will get trapped or just make a bad play, and all of a sudden they’re getting a great scoring chance.”
The Minutemen were dismal last season, finishing 8-24-4 overall and just 2-16-4 in Hockey East play, while losing 22 of their final 24 games. Notre Dame accounted for two of those losses, as the Irish were victorious 3-1 and 5-1 in a series sweep at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Jackson said while the team’s record this year doesn’t reflect it, UMass has already shown improvement under first-year head coach Greg Carvel.
“Greg Carvel is a really good coach, and they play a pretty much North American-style, NHL-style game there on the Olympic sheet,” Jackson said. “We had our hands full with them last year, and they’re always a competitive team.
“ … They had a tough finish last year, and I think they’ve rebounded to get off to a reasonably decent start this year. They’re competitive in every game; they’re not winning every game, but they’re not getting beat badly every game. That’s for sure.”
The Irish square off with the Minutemen in Amherst, Massachusetts, on Friday night at 6:05 p.m. while the opening faceoff Saturday evening is at 7:05 p.m.