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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Hefferon: Irish succeed by keeping it simple, returning to basics (Feb. 18)

Walking around Soldier Field with its Greco-Roman columns and retro signs feels like a trip to the past - to a simpler time when stadiums were named after war heroes, not websites.

It was fitting, then, that the 90-year-old stadium in Chicago played host to the Hockey City Classic on Sunday, as the outdoor games were billed as a return to hockey's most basic roots of childhood games out on the pond.

And, keeping with the theme, No. 12 Notre Dame upset No. 3 Miami on Sunday by taking its game back to its simplest elements.

The Irish usually pride themselves on puck possession and surgical passing, but on the soft, bumpy ice they went with a decidedly more blunt game, stressing dump-ins, hard checks and getting pucks and bodies to the net.

Freshman left wing Mario Lucia will go down as the first goal-scorer in Soldier Field history, but the real work on that tally was done by junior right winger Bryan Rust, who drove   through the RedHawk defense to set the table for Lucia at the top of the crease.

The Irish continued to dump and chase with the lead and controlled the pace of play with their hard work along the boards. Their second goal came in a similar fashion, as junior captain Anders Lee threw a backhand at the net, where junior left winger Jeff Costello charged in to send the rebound home.

The RedHawks scored in the third period to make the game 2-1, but the Irish closed out the game with more hustle and checking. With Miami's extra attacker on the ice, it was the gritty Costello who trapped the puck in the corner, fighting off anyone who came after it until - and through - the final whistle. 

For Irish coach Jeff Jackson, the win had to be a thing of beauty. During the team's January struggles, Jackson repeatedly called for his players to get back to their identity and play Irish hockey, something that eluded them during that stretch of games. But, with Sunday's simplistic win, the Irish have now won four of their last five and seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

With four games left to play, the Irish are just three points behind first-place Miami in the CCHA standings and the playoffs are just around the corner. The homestretch of the season tore the Irish apart last year, but, if Sunday's outdoor win was any indication, the Irish have found a little formula for success on the big stage:

Focus on the simple things, and let everything else take care of itself.

Contact Jack Hefferon at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of  The Observer.