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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Hockey: Talkin' about practice

Notre Dame worked on pulling its goalie mid-play for the first time this season during Wednesday's practice.

The run-through was their last before taking on Lake Superior State tonight at 7:35 in the Joyce Center.

The drill, which was conducted over three weeks since on-ice practices started, went over a very small portion of a hockey game, but its timing is a sign of the struggles the Irish have had with their schedule so far this year.

The No. 13 Irish (4-3, 2-1 CCHA) have played several mid-week games in order to avoid conflicts with the home football schedule, a decision that has severely limited their number of practices. And when they do practice, the sessions are shorter so the team is not fatigued for games.

"We're trying to teach by film now," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. "Most hockey players are what you call kinesthetic learners. They have to learn by doing. You walk them through on the ice - you actually perform on the ice. Most hockey players are not visual or audible learners."

Notre Dame has been forced to do a lot of on-ice learning during games, which it will have to do again tonight when it hosts Lake Superior State (1-2-1) at the Joyce Center. However, it's not an excuse for the team's play, Jackson said, and the young Irish are working on fixing their many problems.

One of those holes that only recently developed is in the power play. Prior to last week, when the Irish defeated Bowling Green in a midweek game and split with Ferris State over the weekend, they had scored at least one power play goal in each of their five games. In the last three games, the Irish went 1-for-24 and allowed a short-handed goal.

"We're not doing enough in and around the net to be successful," Jackson said. "We're getting opportunities, if you see some of the scoring chance that we had in Ferris State on the power play. We're not finishing."

The personnel on the power play has changed frequently, which Jackson said may be happening a little too much. But it will continue to shift until the right chemistry is found on the unit.

Notre Dame has had trouble in the third period as well, giving up 10 of its 17 goals allowed in that frame. Against Wisconsin in the season opener, the Irish surrendered three third-period goals after the game was tied 1-1. The same thing happened against Denver, when they let up a late goal to blow a tie and then an empty-netter to put the game out of reach.

The late goals aren't because of poor conditioning, Jackson said, but the team has not yet learned to "value the puck" to the level that Jackson expects. The team tries to do too much with the puck and turns it over, which has led to the late goals. It happens in every period, but has tended to lead to goals more in the third period than any other, he said.

The players who were a large part of last season's conference championship and run to national No. 1 have put so much pressure on themselves to do better than last year that each one has put the responsibility of generating offense on themselves. This has led to valuing the puck much less than Jackson would like to see.

"It was the biggest fear I had going into the season and it's actually happening," Jackson said. "That's the pressure of high expectations - not just team expectations - but personal expectations."

Irish goalie Jordan Pearce, who has started every game and been the only goalie to see any action, will start in net tonight as well. Earlier in the season Jackson said he wanted to work goalies Tom O'Brien and Brad Phillips into the mix, but Pearce now leads the nation in minutes played with just over 416.

Pearce has been sharper between the pipes than he was expected to be, Jackson said. But he will not play every game, and O'Brien and Phillips will get a shot in the near future. It will only happen, however, when Jackson has full confidence in the younger goalies.

"Just when I'm about ready to pull the trigger, they have a bad practice or they don't look good. I need to see consistency in them," Jackson said. "A coach always deals with his confidence level and who he's putting on the ice."