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Sports

Irish prepare for Big Ten matchup against Wisconsin

| Friday, November 15, 2019

After an impressive weekend sweep of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Irish hockey team (7-0-1, 3-0-1 Big Ten) will get back to work this weekend, beginning a long road trip starting against No. 27 Wisconsin (5-5, 0-2 Big Ten). Irish head coach Jeff Jackson addressed the challenge ahead of the team during his weekly press conference.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish junior defenseman Matt Hellickson waits for the puck during Notre Dame’s 3-2 overtime victory over Ohio State on Nov. 8.

“Six of the next eight are on the road so we’re going to have our hands full this weekend and the next several weekends are going to be challenging because even the non-conference games are against top 15 — top 20 teams,” Jackson said. “It will be a challenging remaining first half for sure.”

Before the team can worry about its non-conference games, it must take on a Big Ten foe in Wisconsin. The Badgers are returning home hungry after a road trip that saw them drop three of four games. Jackson believes his team is having the practice it needs to be up to the task.

“We’ve had a good week of practice,” he said. “The guys are good spirits, obviously when you’re winning it makes it a lot easier. You just don’t want to get comfortable. Every weekend in the Big Ten is challenging. This will be a different type of challenge but a very big challenge as far as playing a very good offensive team, highly skilled, fast. They are going to give us more than we can handle at times. We’re going to have to be prepared to defend well.”

Wisconsin has received a ton of hype in the hockey media for sporting two 2019 first round picks on its roster. Freshmen forwards Cole Caulfield and Alex Tucrotte were top 15 selections, giving the Badgers a solid youthful core. Coach Jackson believes that their youth may be somewhat responsible for their slow start, but once they gain momentum they will be a tough team to beat.

“They have some real good returning players, but the freshmen are what’s really created the buzz around their program. Guys like Caulfield, Turcotte, [freshman defenseman Dylan] Holloway, who will get drafted next year, all three of those freshmen are first round picks. They have some really good players returning as well so you know they don’t have any holes,” Jackson said. “They are young, and that’s why I think that they’ve had some struggles at times but it’s probably just more a maturity thing than it is of ability level thing so I expect that at some point they’re going to gain confidence, and potentially go on a roll, because they have so much ability offensively.”

The Badgers are not the only team relying on its youth, and coach Jackson had high praise for his young players as well.

“Certainly [freshman defenseman Trevor] Janicke has really elevated his game. [Freshman forward] Jesse Landsdell is showing really positive signs playing more on the second and third lines more as well as Janicke,” Jackson said. “It’s a combination of the youth that we have up front, that’s really helped us in the last few weeks here. [Sophomore forward Jake] Pivonka is starting to be more productive offensively. You know there’s positive signs up and down the lineup that you know that are helping us at this point.”

Even in a pair of wins over a strong opponent like Ohio State, coach Jackson knows his team needs to make adjustments to continue to get better. The team’s power play has been scoreless in four games, squandering the entirety of a five-minute major in their most recent game against Ohio State. Jackson said the team is still finding its power play identity without sophomore forward Michael Graham and may make personnel changes soon.

“It hasn’t helped us trying to get the power play [going] ever since Michael Graham went down it’s kind of gone down a little bit,” Jackson said. “We are probably going to tinker with it a little bit, you can’t go for games without a power play goal and not start looking at changes. We’ll take a look at taking a few guys off and adding a few guys, you know, see if we can get it moving in the right direction.”

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