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Notre Dame prepares for Michigan series

| Thursday, February 15, 2018

No. 1 Notre Dame is gearing up for a home-and-home series against the Wolverines of Michigan on Friday and Sunday.

The Irish (22-6-2, 16-3-1 Big Ten) head into the matchup having clinched the Big Ten Regular Season Championship after beating Ohio State on Friday.

Michigan (14-13-3, 9-10-3 Big Ten) has struggled compared to the rest of the conference this season, sitting in last place of the Big Ten standings. Nevertheless, the Wolverines remain on the cusp of an NCAA tournament berth.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Senior forward Dawson Cook skates against Ohio State at Compton Family Ice Arena on Feb. 10.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said he thinks Michigan will be coming at the Irish with a vengeance, as Notre Dame swept the Wolverines last time the two squads met in January.

“This is a little different than the other series because this is a short turnaround,” Jackson said. “We had a much longer period of time between the series [with] the other teams we’ve played. So, this is a month turnaround basically, so we just played them it seems like. They’re right on the NCAA bubble, and I think that, just from what I see in watching them play, they’re certainly a top team in the country, not just in the conference. Right now our conference is just really tough, Minnesota [vs.] Ohio State this weekend is going to be a great series. The last two weeks of the regular season are going to be tough.”

Despite its place in the Big Ten standings, Michigan is no slouch, Jackson said, emphasizing the skill of the Wolverines. Jackson said the Wolverines have stepped up their game since the Irish met them in January.

“Ever since our first series with them in January, they’ve been playing really well,” he said. “They got beat by Ohio State a couple of times, but Ohio State is a really good team. So they’ve been playing a lot better since the second half of the year started. They’re a younger team, and they’re getting some confidence. They’re very fast, and they’re very skillful.”

The Irish are coming off a tough loss at the hands of No. 6 Ohio State in which star sophomore goaltender Cale Morris, who has been a huge part of the team’s success this year, allowed four goals before being pulled in the third period. Nevertheless, having been through a similar experience in Chicago against Wisconsin several weeks ago, Jackson said he is confident that Morris will bounce back.

“Same thing happened in Chicago [against Wisconsin],” Jackson said.“Our team wasn’t playing very well at that point, we were giving up too many odd man rushes and I didn’t want him to get embarrassed. I would have [pulled him] in Chicago too; in hindsight, I probably should have. But, [Morris] came right back and had that 1-0 game in overtime against Minnesota and played extremely well, so I’m not concerned.”

Overall, Jackson emphasized that the loss on Saturday was largely due to defensive mishaps and errors, which led to scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes.

“We were in the game going into the third period, we just made some bad puck decisions, some bad turnovers,” he said. “We gave up way too many odd man rushes. To me, that was the biggest thing, and they come from different situations — we encourage our defensemen to be active on transitions, so they’re going to be off the ice and that means forwards have to cover for them. Two of those odd man rushes were because nobody covered for the defenseman who was activating. And then I think a couple of them were results of turnovers, bad turnovers. Maybe one or two more were when our defensemen made high risk decisions.”

Even though the Irish have clinched the Big Ten Regular Season Championship, they are still playing for more than pride, Jackson said. The games certainly still matter for the Irish.

“To me, it’s more about making sure we are trying to finish in the top four to be a top seed [in the NCAA tournament],” he said. “Obviously it’s nice to finish as high as you can because you get home ice and last change, which, last year in the Frozen Four was a huge component to the game because we didn’t have last change and we got mismatched the whole game.”

The puck will drop at 7:35 p.m. against the Wolverines on Friday at Compton Family Ice Arena.

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