Hockey: On the outside, looking in
Squad battles for first in Oxford and Windy City
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 03:02
A playoff atmosphere is building as the Irish prepare for a unique weekend faceoff with the RedHawks of Miami (OH).
Coming off a sweep of rival Michigan, the No. 12 Irish (18-11-1, 14-7-1 CCHA) must prepare for another rivalry matchup against No. 3 Miami (18-7-5, 13-5-4). Complicating matters is the exciting trip to Soldier Field for the second game of the doubleheader after Friday’s matchup in Oxford. Players are looking forward to the rare opportunity to play outside, but know that Friday night is where their focus must be.
“We realize that Miami is a very good hockey team,” junior center T.J. Tynan said. “We know how much these games mean, and we just have to focus [on Friday], that first period.”
The RedHawks ..have won six of their last seven games, and have allowed two or fewer goals in their last eight. Their stingy defense will pose a serious challenge for an Irish offense that had been struggling before an offensive explosion versus Michigan.
“We’re two similar teams. We both play up tempo, and they like to outnumber you in the D-zone,” senior defenseman Sam Calabrese said. “We have to stay physical … matching their intensity, especially on the road, will be huge.”
The RedHawks lead the Irish by 3 points in the CCHA standings, and with only a few weeks left, these games will have a massive impact on the standings. The players are also hoping to bring attention to what they feel like has been an overlooked rivalry.
“We all know how big the Miami rivalry is, “ Tynan said. “The hockey guys know how good Miami is, and how well we have to play to beat them.”
Irish coach Jeff Jackson knows that in order to beat the RedHawks, his team will have to buck recent trends.
“[The rivalry] has been really one-sided lately,” Coach Jackson said. “But based on their rankings in the standings there is always that enthusiasm to play them.”
The Irish seem to have solved many of their issues this past weekend, but a few persist, most noticeably the play of the special teams units. The penalty kill team has struggled throughout the second half, while the power play team has allowed 3 short-handed goals the past two weekends.
“Special teams will be huge [this weekend]; its probably what will make or break our season,” junior goaltender Steven Summerhays said. “Especially penalty kill —– I think improving the penalty kill starts with me, or [senior goaltender Mike Johnson] if he’s playing.”
The starting goaltender is another question that needs answering. Jackson is still unsure of his starter for this weekend after each goalie gave up four goals in their starts last weekend. Regardless of which goalie starts, the team knows that these next few weeks are going to have a playoff atmosphere.
“Even though it’s not playoffs, we have to win these games to stay alive and get into the tournament,” Tynan said. “We just have to focus on getting wins, that’s the most important thing.”
According to Jackson, his team won’t be the only team with a sense of urgency.
“There’s no easy games anymore, we have to be prepared to play 60 min of hockey every night,” Jackson said, “Everybody we play will be competing for their lives. That’s what happens this time of year, and that’s what makes this time of year exciting.”
Notre Dame will challenge Miami at 7:35 p.m. on Friday in Oxford, Ohio, before traveling to Chicago to face the RedHawks at 1:05 p.m. Sunday in the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field.
Contact Casey Karnes at email@example.com