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Irish look to get back to winning ways in Minnesota

| Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Irish will travel to Minneapolis this weekend to take on Minnesota in a conference matchup on the road.

Notre Dame (19-4-1, 13-1-1 Big Ten) heads into the road series coming off a 5-0 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, which snapped the squad’s program-record 16-game winning streak. Nevertheless, the Irish remain in the No. 1 slot of the national rankings, and Irish head coach Jeff Jackson knows what the squad needs to do to get back on track.

Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer
Irish senior forward Jake Evans shoots the puck during Notre Dame’s 4-2 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 19 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

“I have to look at [the loss] as just a blip,” Jackson said. “The doors fell off with about three minutes left in the second period — we were playing OK, we weren’t playing great. Giving up the short-handed goal and a power-play goal right after was pretty much the result. So, that’s special teams, and part of the reason we’ve had success over that run was because of our penalty kill specifically, but our power play wasn’t giving up goals, and at least we were scoring at a 20 percent rate.

“So that was unfortunate, and we have to just move forward and focus on the things we’ve been talking about all along — just focus on the details of our game. I think our details have dropped off a little bit since that long break over Christmas, and we have to get back to our execution of fundamentals.”

For the Irish, getting back on track starts in practice, according to Jackson. The team remains focused on the fundamental aspects of its game, and Jackson’s focus remains on the things he emphasized early on in the season.

“We just have to practice. The big emphasis going into the season was working on protecting the puck, valuing the puck and then defensive sticks —doing a good job with our sticks and positioning,” Jackson said. “And then the other fundamentals are tied into those things — whether it’s our cycle game, protecting the puck or our transition game defensively with our stick positioning or our forecheck. So there are different parts where those things come into play, but those are the details that we need to get better at again.”

But amidst the focus of bouncing back from a trying loss, the players have taken the time to appreciate their accomplishments thus far and clear their heads for what is to come, according to senior captain Jake Evans.

“For one, we’re just grateful, just happy with what we’ve accomplished,” Evans said. “You don’t see that very often, so we’re just happy. We knew we were going to lose a game eventually, and the biggest thing after that is to just forget about it and move on. I think the guys are doing a great job of that. There’s a lot of energy on the ice again, and no one has really been talking about it. People are just excited to go to Minnesota — it’s going to be a fun building, a fun atmosphere.”

Minnesota (15-12-1, 6-9-1 Big Ten) sits at No. 13 in the nation, and Mariucci Arena is regarded as one of the toughest atmospheres in all of college hockey, so the Irish are not taking this weekend’s challenge lightly. Plus, the Irish will go on to face Penn State on the road immediately following this weekend’s series. Jackson said these high-tempo environments are part of what attracted Notre Dame to the Big Ten, but they present a significant challenge nonetheless.

“[Minnesota] is probably the toughest environment in the conference, by my estimation, and Penn State is right up there with them, and we’ve got to go there next week,” Jackson said. “So probably the two toughest venues that we’ll have to play in are over the next two weeks. But, we’ve had to play at Yost [Ice Arena], we’ve had to play at some tough buildings, so it’s not like it’s going to be that much different. Some teams play better at home too, some teams are buzzing at home, and Minnesota is one of those teams. They’re generally a really good home team. So, we’ll have our hands full. … Teams are not going to just lay down for you. And when you’re ranked, and you have this streak going and everyone is looking, it elevates their game.

“ … We’re going to face everybody’s best game from here on out — it’s that time of the year. Everybody’s jockeying for playoff position, and it’s going to be a challenge.”

The Irish will be meeting Minnesota for the 49th time in program history Friday, and Notre Dame swept the Golden Gophers in a series earlier this season by scores of 1-0 and 5-2. Nevertheless, Minnesota leads the all-time series, 27-18-3.

The puck drops against the Golden Gophers at 8 p.m. on Friday at Mariucci Arena.

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