Irish prepare for conference play with matchups in Minnesota
Jimmy Ward | Friday, November 1, 2019
The No. 5 ranked Notre Dame hockey team spent the past week preparing for a two-game road series in Minnesota. The Irish are coming off a home series over fall break that saw them take two games against head coach Jeff Jackson’s previous squad in Lake Superior State. Jackson got his coaching career started at Lake Superior serving as an assistant coach from 1986-1990 until he took the helm of the team serving as head coach from 1990-1996. Jackson’s Notre Dame squad would show no mercy to his past team though, beating them 5-2 in the first game and 6-4 in the second, last weekend.
Captain Cal Burke had a terrific two games, contributing to four of the five goals scored in the first game and three of six in the second. The senior forward would finish the weekend series raking up five assists and scoring two goals. Fellow senior forward Mike O’Leary also had break out games in the series, scoring his first points of the season in the first game, finishing the evening with two goals and adding an assist to his totals. O’Leary would record identical stats on night two.
O’Leary would go on to credit his linemates for the successful quick start to the season.
“I think for me specifically, obviously I had a big emphasis this summer on just doing everything I possibly could to make my senior year the best one possible. Just doing those little extra things, whether it be eating right, or spending more time in the weight room, those kinds of things. And then obviously I think there’s a lot of credit to my linemates. Obviously each one of us kind of brings something different. Theisen is a physical guy, Cal [Burke] is super fast and he dogs pucks, and I just try and get to the net and create a little bit of havoc. So I think just the mixture of the three of us has created a really productive line which has been nice to start,” O’Leary said.
The Minnesota Gophers stadium, the 3M Arena at Mariucci, houses an Olympic-sized rink, something the Irish are not accustomed to playing on. O’Leary discussed how the sheer size of the rink will play a factor in the matchup.
“Obviously they play on a really big sheet,” he said. “I think it’s an Olympic size rink maybe bigger. I know it obviously feels bigger when we’re out there. They’re a fast team, they’re super skilled. With that being said, I think they’re also young. Maybe they shy away a little bit from the physical play so I think that benefits us, especially with our structure. But I think it’s fun, we’re excited to play a Big 10 team and kind of get the rivalries going and get back into it so we’re all ready to go and excited for this weekend.”
Big Ten hockey is what the team has been craving since the start of the season. After wins against Air Force and Lake Superior state, it could be said there was a bit of physicality lacking, but no more with Big Ten hockey tuning in a different breed the Irish are more familiar with. Coach Jackson discussed how the league plays to a different tune and how his team prepares for it.
“I think they understand the challenges ahead of us,” he said. “The conference is going to be very challenging again. I wouldn’t be surprised if its very similar to last year, maybe one team will step up maybe two. But I mean realistically, there’s a lot of pretty balanced teams within the conference and they all have the pluses and minuses but it could be very similar to last year. You know that’s why those non-conference games are so very important.
“Yeah for the most part I think we’ve done well. I don’t know if we’re the top conference but we’re close. There’s been some tough games for teams too. For Wisconsin to beat Duluth twice but then they turn around and beat Minnesota twice so it kind of balances out. But there’s been some really tough non-conference games with other teams that are ranked in the top 10 so those games certainly pay big dividends later in the year.”
The puck will be dropped for the first game in Minneapolis at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The second game will start at 5 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.