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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Irish look to halt slide

Coming off a tough weekend, the Irish look to gain momentum when they visit Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts, on Friday and Saturday.

Notre Dame (6-8-2, 2-2-2 Hockey East) has not gotten a win in regulation in their last nine times on the ice.

After last Saturday’s 5-1 loss at the hands of Ohio State, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he hoped the team had its low point and was ready to turn things around.

“Maybe that was us bottoming out, and hopefully, now we can start building up again,” Jackson said. “The break's coming at an opportune time, but I hope we finish on a positive note, and that’s been the emphasis. Let’s finish the first half on a positive note and empty the tank.”

Junior center and captain Steven Fogarty said he agreed with Jackson’s assessment and said he and the team were focused on moving forward.

“I think bottoming out is a good way to put it,” Fogarty said. "We don’t want to go any lower than that. It’s unacceptable and not what this program is about. We’re putting what happened in November in the past and trying to get two good games this weekend going in to break.”

Jackson said the two things that are most frustrating about Notre Dame’s play of late are its inability to score on the power play and the lack of competitive fight shown when it gets behind.

“I thought that we let up,” Jackson said. "We can’t accept guys giving up. That’s not acceptable in this program, and I thought we stopped going after it.”

As far as the power play, on the season the Irish have scored on a paltry four of their 61 power-play chances. The Irish actually have a higher shot percentage when they are shorthanded than when they have the man advantage. This poor showing prompted Jackson to say he is taking a more involved role in the power-play facet of the game.

“I’ve gotten more engaged with it to try and get their attention,” Jackson said. “We worked on it for an extended period of time before practice, in practice, and we’re just going to have to pound it into them until we get some success. We have to get better at faceoffs, moving from there and getting traffic at the net. Those have been my points of emphasis. I went through each individual player and told them why we’re not successful and how they’re contributing to that.”

As the Irish move forward, both Jackson and Fogarty said the Irish need upperclassmen to take ownership of the team and lead the young Irish to a turnaround. Jackson said he felt the freshman were meeting expectations for the most part and needed the older players to take greater strides for the team to improve.

“I think the biggest thing is, we need our upperclassmen to take over the team,” Jackson said. “The young guys have done a pretty good job; as players, they’ve been pretty good, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job in a lot of different situations. The thing is, I think our upperclassmen have to step up and be more effective. We are a young inexperienced hockey team for the most part, but there are a number of veteran players who know how we do things around here and how we perform, and they need to step up and make sure that doesn’t slide.”

Fogarty said he agreed with his coach and added he was prepared to accept the burden of leading a young struggling team.

“When you go through tough patches like this, the younger guys look to the older guys to see how they’re responding,” Fogarty said. “In past years, we’ve had droughts like this, and it's just about keeping level headed and staying positive. We have a mature team, which is kind of ironic with so many freshmen, but they have the right mindset. I think we can just learn from it and move on. I try to keep playing hard, do what the coaches ask and keep a positive attitude — just try to lead by example.”

This weekend, Fogarty leads Notre Dame against a Massachusetts unit that only has one conference win. The Minutemen (4-9-0, 1-7-0) have dropped four of their last five and are surrendering more than four goals per game. Despite Massachusetts’ recent struggles, Jackson said he hopes his team is focused on the weekend ahead and is ready to be tested.

“We have to just focus on Friday night right now,” Jackson said. “We’re on the road; it’s going to be a bit more challenging. We have to be prepared to the things that are going to make us successful. It’s important that we have some success this weekend to get some confidence going into the second half.”

When asked if this was the most important weekend of the season so far, Fogarty was quick to say that he felt it was.

“I think it is,” Fogarty said. "I think we all know how important this weekend is, so we can get everyone having fun again going into the long break.”

After this weekend, the Irish do not play again until Dec. 28 and 29 at the Florida College Hockey Classic in Estero, Florida.

Notre Dame and Massachusetts face off Friday and Saturday at the Mullins Center, with both nights’ action getting underway at 7 p.m.