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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

Hockey: Irish hope to break losing streak

One week ago, the No. 13 Irish faced a two-game series against now-No. 1 Ferris State with the opportunity to make a run at a CCHA championship. After being swept by the Bulldogs, Notre Dame will travel to No. 19 Miami this weekend, with both a bye in the CCHA tournament and an NCAA tournament berth in serious jeopardy.

The Irish (16-13-3, 11-10-3-0 CCHA) limp into this weekend's showdown against the Redhawks (17-13-2, 11-11-2-1) with a three-game losing streak and just a 3-7 record in their last 10 games. After a season that started promising, Notre Dame now sits tied for seventh in the conference and 18th in the crucial PairWise rankings. Only the top five CCHA teams earn byes in the conference tournament, while the five conference tournament winners and top 11 at-large teams in the PairWise make the NCAA tournament.

"It's as frustrating for [the players] as it is for me and our staff," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. "It's a matter of we won all those games [early in the season] struggling with our secondary scoring and all of a sudden now our primary scoring's not scoring. I think that's tough. And then when the goaltending's been pretty good in the second half — we've had a few inconsistent starts — it's challenging."

The Irish have notably had strong performances against high-profile opponents such as Boston College, Michigan, Boston University and Minnesota this season, yet struggled against small-name teams such as Alaska and Bowling Green.

"When we play with that underdog mindset, we're a pretty darn good team," Jackson said. "When we play against Boston College or Michigan, we still believe that we have that underdog mindset. But when we don't play with that underdog mindset, we're just as good as everybody else."

The underdog mindset will likely be around when the Irish travel to raucous Steve Cady Arena. The Redhawks, who possess the Mason Cup after winning last season's CCHA tournament, have been inconsistent this season but are full of talent. The squad features all-CCHA junior forward Reilly Smith, who leads the team with 30 points, and the senior goaltending duo of Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp.

"[Miami] is a very good hockey team," Jackson said. "We have to do a really good job with the puck, but I think against this team, we're going to have to make sure that we don't give them a lot of odd-man rush situations.

"They've got great team speed. They're a little younger up front than they've been in the last few years. They're still real experienced on the back end and in goal. Their forwards are very talented, but they're young. And they've had ups-and-downs like we've had this year and we just have to play real smart hockey with the puck, not taking unnecessary penalties."

Despite the stretch of poor play recently, Irish senior captain and defenseman Sean Lorenz believes his team still has time to turn things around.

"We're excited. It's crunch time and as bad as we've been playing the past 10 games, honestly, there's so much more time in the season," Lorenz said. "There's four games and those four games could boost us up into the top four in the conference and top 10 nationally. So these last four are really important and going to Miami is always a challenge and always fun in my opinion, just because of the atmosphere, and we're looking forward to it."

Jackson has echoed those sentiments to his club, referring frequently to the 2008 Irish squad that made the national championship game after hobbling into the NCAA tournament.

"You have to take solace in the fact that if you maintain the right attitude, regardless of how bad things look, is that anything's possible," Jackson said. "Anything's possible until your heart's not beating anymore."

The Irish will face the Redhawks in a critical series at Miami tonight at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.