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Irish head into matchup with Boston College seeking more offensive consistency

| Thursday, December 8, 2016

As No. 14 Notre Dame heads into Saturday’s matchup with Hockey East rival No. 4 Boston College at Compton Family Ice Arena, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson and his squad are still looking for consistent production in close games as the end of the semester nears.

“It’s just been a little bit of inconsistency in our game,” Jackson said. “And it generally comes offensively, more than anything else, but we break down in those close games when we’re not scoring.”

Saturday marks the last time the Irish (8-6-2, 4-3-1 Hockey East) host the rival Eagles (13-5-1, 8-0-1) as Hockey East foes, as well as the marquee game of Notre Dame’s 2016-2017 home slate. The matchup also provides Notre Dame with the opportunity to wash away some of the sting from last year’s 4-0 loss against the Eagles at Compton.

The Irish struggled in close games against top competition last season, but Jackson said he’s been “surprised” and “disappointed” by Notre Dame’s frustrations so far this year.

“I think we start stressing a bit where we don’t finish, and it leads to like last game [a 2-0 loss to Clarkson on Nov. 26] where we give up a 2-on-0 on a four-on-four situation,” Jackson said. “And those things just can’t happen because you have to win a game like that 1-0 or 2-1. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

The Clarkson loss isn’t an anomaly, but at the same time the Irish have also looked like the top-10 preseason team that began the season. The variation has been wild:

During Notre Dame’s loss to UConn on Oct. 27, the Irish dominated most of the first period but couldn’t break through with a goal. Two defensive breakdowns in the final minutes of the period, however, sent the Irish to the locker room down 2-0 after a period where they controlled the vast majority of play.

The next day the Irish opened the flood gates while thumping the Huskies, 6-2.

Against UMass-Lowell on Nov. 17, the Irish were whipped by the River Hawks, 4-1, in a game that wasn’t that close.

The very next night Notre Dame flipped the script, controlling the game en route to a 4-1 victory of its own.

Last weekend, the Irish struggled through the first 40 minutes against UMass on Friday night, finding themselves down 3-0 after two periods. Though the Notre Dame ended up losing 5-4, the momentum from a four-goal third period carried over in Saturday’s 3-0 victory.

Jackson said this inconsistency has roots in Notre Dame’s offensive struggles to get to the front of the net.

“It’s probably been more about our inability to score that’s led to the problem,” Jackson said. “And then there’s nights where we look fine. We score four goals. But in those games where …we play against a really good goaltender or a hot goalie, and we get shots but we don’t necessarily get the type of gritty chances in front of the net that we need to score against a really good goalie. Because that happens against good teams: You’re going to run into good goaltenders, and you have to find a way to get a little bit grittier in and around the net area.”

Jackson said the team needed to find ways into these dirty areas.

“You kind of expect that from the big guys, and I see it from our energy guys but they just don’t finish all the time,” Jackson said. “Guys like [sophomore forward] Jack Jenkins or [freshman forward] Cal Burke. Cal Burke has had a history of being a pretty good offensive player, but he’s snake-bit right now in and around the crease area. Sometimes even our bigger guys, sometimes they get pushed out of that area. … It’s grit, it’s fortitude, but it’s also being strong on your skates and strong over your stick so your stick doesn’t get lifted up. You’re just competing for those pucks in the dirty zone.”

Jackson said the Irish were emphasizing these battles in practice in the week leading up to UMass.

“We’ve started doing a little bit more consistently competitive stuff from an offensive perspective,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of a tough thing to practice to be better or grittier offensively, but … we have to do them. We have to put our guys in uncomfortable situations to get them to respond when they get into those situations in a game.”

The emphasis appeared to work somewhat against UMass. On sophomore defenseman Bobby Nardella’s goal, Notre Dame’s third of four in the third period of Friday’s game, freshman forward Cam Morrison and junior forward Jake Evans were screening the UMass goalie. Sophomore forward Andrew Oglevie got the scoring started Saturday by putting home a rebound opportunity, and Morrison causing havoc in front of the net allowed Evans to blast in another rebound for Notre Dame’s second goal of the game.

It’s a trend that will need to continue for the Irish to find success against Boston College and freshman goaltender Joseph Woll, who is allowing just 2.48 goals per game while posting a .918 save percentage en route to a 10-5-1 record in net.

The Eagles are also outscoring opponents 71-46, led by senior forward Matthew Gaudreau, younger brother of current Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau. The younger Gaudreau paces the Eagles with 22 points while sophomore forward Colin White leads the Eagles with 10 goals.

“I’d like to go into the second half with a little momentum if possible,” Jackson said. “I think this season hasn’t been poor, but it just hasn’t been great.”

The Irish can continue building that momentum with a victory over the Eagles. Puck drop is Saturday at 7:10 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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