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Irish look to improve home record, Big Ten standing against Wisconsin

| Friday, February 15, 2019

After picking up a much needed 5-2 win over Michigan on Tuesday, the Irish will turnaround quickly to take on Wisconsin at home this weekend. The Irish (15-10-3, 8-8-2 Big Ten) took five points in the conference standings from the Badgers (9-4-5, 5-8-5 Big Ten) the last time they met, and will now need a strong weekend at home to keep raising their position in the Big Ten.

The Irish are currently third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Michigan. They trail Michigan by two points, the equivalent of an overtime win, but have played two fewer games than the Wolverines. If the Irish can take advantage of these “games in hand” they can solidify themselves as the two seed, giving them home-ice advantage in the Big Ten tournament against anyone but Ohio State. When asked about the games at hand on Michigan, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson emphasized the importance of this weekend’s matchup.

“You have to win those games at hand. We have a tough series against Wisconsin. They’re coming off of a couple tough losses against Ohio State — we know how that feels,” Jackson said. “They’ll be highly motivated and have a little more time to prepare for us with the full week as compared to just a day or two.”

Alexis Hernandez | The Observer
Irish senior forward Jack Jenkins battles for a faceoff during Notre Dame’s 5-2 win over Michigan on Tuesday night in Compton Family Ice Arena.

Wisconsin presents an interesting matchup for the Irish, because two of the team’s three leading scorers are defensemen. Freshman and 2018 NHL Draft first-round pick K’Andre Miller and sophomore Wyatt Kalynuk can both move the puck and have heavy shots that can challenge the Irish defense. The Irish will need to additionally focus on stopping the Wisconsin defensemen from joining the rush as they try to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard.

In addition to stopping the Wisconsin defensemen, the Irish are hoping to solidify home-ice advantage. The team has posted a pedestrian 7-6-2 record at home, a surprising stat when compared to its 7-4-1 mark away from Compton Ice Arena. Jackson said the team will need to play better at home if Notre Dame is going to make noise in the Big Ten tournament.

“We have to take care of business, we have to be a good home team if we’re going to do anything in the playoffs,” Jackson said. “We would like to clinch home ice at some point, and we have to win games at home. We’ve got to be proud to play in this building and come out with the start we had [Tuesday against Michigan]. If we can do that and play the way we did [against the Wolverines] consistently at home, it gives us a much better chance to finish at the top of the standings and have a chance to play at home in the playoffs.”

In addition to the importance in the Big Ten Standings, these wins will play a major factor in NCAA tournament qualifying. College hockey seeds teams for its 16-team postseason based on their standing in an objective measure called Pairwise. Each of the five conferences’ champion qualifies automatically, and then pairwise ratings are used to fill out the remainder of the field. The Irish are currently tied for sixteenth in pairwise, and will need wins to inflate their ranking. To climb up the rankings and feel confident about their odds of qualifying as an at-large team, wins this weekend will go a long way towards that goal.

The Irish will host the Badgers at Compton Family Ice Arena on 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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