Jan. 15, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
The overall strength of Hockey East helped lure Notre Dame to the league last year and it will start showing itself to the Irish starting this weekend as each of the team’s final 14 regular season games are in league play.
The Irish, (9-11-2, 4-2-2 Hockey East) stand sixth in the conference, just a point ahead of this weekend’s foe, Connecticut (7-10-4, 4-4-1) and with games in hand on each of the league’s other 11 teams.
The Huskies may be the league’s newest member but UConn hasn’t played the role of puppies either, claiming wins over several of the league’s top dogs, including a 2-0 shutout of No. 6 UMass Lowell this past Saturday. The Huskies have wins or ties this year against four of the league’s top five teams, beating Boston College and Vermont, along with the River Hawks, while tying Boston University.
“We’re going to have to be prepared to compete and battle for 60 minutes,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “There’s a lot of good teams in front of us and a lot of the teams below us in the standings are starting to get hot. You see Northeastern [2-1-2 in January] starting to get going. UNH is starting to play well. Maine [3-1-0 in January] is starting to play better. And, UConn, has already shown what they can do.”
“(UConn is) a scrappy bunch. They’re going to be hard to play against. It’s not going to be the same as Western Michigan with the (Broncos’) size, but the competition level is going to be extremely high.”
The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. Friday night for the latest “Hockey Night in South Bend.” For those who aren’t able to make it out to the game, NBC Sports Network will broadcast it live nationally.
Notre Dame played spurts of good hockey this past weekend against Western Michigan but too many lapses would be the team’s undoing in a weekend sweep by the Broncos, winning 4-2 on Friday night in Kalamazoo and 4-3 on Saturday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The young Irish team – one which dressed nine freshmen for the Saturday night game against the Broncos and just four seniors – has shown the effort needed to start marching towards a deep run in the Hockey East playoffs and an NCAA Tournament berth, but maintaining that effort consistently has been a challenge.
“Despite some of our tough spells, they’ve worked hard,” Jackson said of his squad. “They’ve come back and the attitude has been good. The work ethic has been good. They want it to turn around too. They don’t want to be where we are. They just have to understand what we’ve got to do to make sure it doesn’t continue.”
One of the team’s top scorers agreed with his coach’s sentiments.
“After the game (on Saturday) we talked about it and put it behind us,” junior Thomas DiPauli said. “The past couple of practices have been really good – a lot of intensity working on winning battles which will be huge for us in upcoming games. So, the practices have been really good and (we’re) getting ready for this weekend.”
It will be a long an unusual weekend for the two teams, one where Notre Dame’s young legs could prove valuable. Notre Dame and UConn will travel about 750 miles on Saturday to complete a home-and-home series at noon on Sunday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.