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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Hockey: Seeing double

The defending CCHA champions will open their season with two games against Ohio State (2-4-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) this weekend. No. 8 Notre Dame (3-3-0) hosts the Buckeyes today at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 5:05 p.m.

"It is going to be good to get the Friday, Saturday games going again, playing in the conference," senior captain Ryan Thang said. "Get back to the type of playing style the CCHA is ... Some of the teams we have played are very different, so it's good to be back."

The Irish opened the season with weekend splits against Alabama-Huntsville and Providence before traveling to Boston, where they defeated defending champions No. 3 Boston University 3-0. Notre Dame then returned to campus and was defeated by No. 14 Boston College on Oct. 23.

Last season the Irish won both the regular season and postseason CCHA crowns, and they hope to continue their success, instead of replicating the up-and-down pattern of late.

"In the CCHA, once you start your conference [schedule], games get even more intense because you are playing for points," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. "Our conference is going to be really challenging this year, more than I can remember."

Ohio State, selected to finish fourth in the preseason CCHA rankings, began its CCHA slate with a weekend split against Lake Superior State.

"They are a tough, gritty team, definitely play a physical game," Thang said. "They compete very hard, and return some very good players. I know their goaltending will be tough to get some pucks by, and we've had trouble scoring this year so we have to get a lot of things going."

The Irish have indeed had trouble scoring consistently six games into this season. Whereas in the team's first three games last season Notre Dame scored 12 goals, the Irish have only netted 14 shots in twice as many contests this season.

"Until we get the guys playing the way they need to play [we'll make changes]," Jackson said. "Until I find that one missing ingredient to get the power play really effective, or to make sure we have three lines that could potentially score, I don't like making changes all the time, but until we start executing the way we need to do things, I'm not going to stand back."

Thang is confident the Irish talent will shine through before long.

"It's just about doing the right thing, and they'll start go in," he said. "They'll go in eventually. We have too much talent in the locker room to not score four or five goals a night. We're just waiting."

While the Notre Dame offense works to find the back of the net with the puck, the mainstay of the Irish defense remains cloudy. Junior goalie Brad Phillips began the season as the Irish starter, but after an opening night 3-2 defeat, senior Tom O'Brien took his place in the net. Since then, Phillips has recorded three more starts, and freshman Mike Johnson has started one, a complete game shutout of Providence. Thursday Jackson said he did not yet know whom he would start against the Buckeyes.

"I am going to watch practice on tape tonight before I make that decision for tomorrow," he said. "I expect Mike and Tommy will both get a look here."

With so many questions still surrounding the Irish, Thang and Notre Dame will look to erase some confusion against the Buckeyes.

"Hopefully this weekend is our jump start," Thang said.