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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

No. 4 Notre Dame looks to extend streak to six at RPI

After sweeping Penn State in their Big Ten series at home, the No. 4 Irish will take on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this weekend at the Houston Field House in Troy, New York.

The Irish are currently on a five-game winning streak, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak in the country at the moment. Although the Irish will take a break from conference play this weekend, RPI could still present a challenge to Notre Dame’s momentum. Notre Dame has played RPI a total of eight times in the past, and the series stands tied at 4-4-0.

Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer
Irish sophomore goaltender Cale Morris stands in goal during Notre Dame's 5-4 victory over Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 27 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson and his team are thoroughly focused on maintaining the level of play it has displayed over the past few weeks.

“I think that’s a real challenge for us right now — to make sure we maintain that level of play that we’ve developed over the last four games. We can’t lose it because it’s non-conference. We can’t lose it because it may not be one of the top two or three teams in the ECAC,” Jackson said. “RPI has a new coach; they have a new energy about them; they’ve got some skill and talent. They’re a team that knocked off Ohio State too, at Ohio State, and they beat Quinnipiac last week, so they’re a team that’s going to be tough to beat in their building for sure. The biggest thing for us is, if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, I think we can have some success. If we drop off a little bit, then it’s going to be more difficult.”

The Irish have been having the most success they have all season, thanks in part to the goaltending of sophomore Cale Morris, along with a strong defensive unit. The team has tallied 42 goals thus far, tied for second in the nation, and their 3.5 goals per game stands at tied for ninth in the country.

“There’s a number of positives. I think now that we have everybody back, we’re trying to solidify our lines,” Jackson said. “I think, through that process, it has opened up the door for guys to identify a role on our team. Through that process, I think [sophomore forward] Mike O’Leary and [senior forwards] Dawson Cook and Bo Brauer created a bit of an identity with their lines. ... It has opened the door for them to take a bigger role, because they’ve been playing top-three line minutes, and I wouldn’t have thought that would have happened if everybody had stayed healthy. Other than that, I think we’ve gotten a much better grasp of who our defensive core is — which guys are going to be the guys that fit our identity as a team better. And I think our penalty kill has been very consistent.”

Nevertheless, Jackson feels there are always areas of improvement, especially for a team in a conference as competitive as the Big Ten. The team’s power play unit has struggled as of late, despite a great start to the season. It’s a problem Jackson and his staff are dedicated to solving.

“We’re not shooting the puck enough — that’s the first thing,” Jackson said. “And secondly, is that the chemistry that we had fell off, we lost [junior forward Andrew] Oglevie there for two or three weeks, we lost [junior forward Joe] Wegwerth, he was on the power play. So, the chemistry kind of dropped off a little bit, and we need to see if we can get it back.”

Jackson stressed the importance of chemistry over individual talent as a recipe for success as the season goes on.

“It’s funny, you could have great players on the ice, but it’s not so much about the great players as much as it is about the chemistry amongst the great players,” he said.

On another note, the Irish seem to be starting slow in their matchups as of late, which could certainly be a disadvantage, although the team has persevered thus far. In fact, half of the team’s goals have come in the second period. That dynamic is something that Jackson and his staff are looking into as the first half of the season nears a close.

“It is a bit of a concern, actually. I’ve been talking to the leadership group and I’ve broached it with the team, as far as how we start games,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to identify why it’s happening … We’re looking at different things like what they do prior to the game, as far as their warm ups, and also the on-ice warm up- what are we doing as far as preparing them, but more importantly what are they doing to prepare themselves to play. It’s not good to get off to poor starts, you don’t want to be playing from behind.”

Morris, whose play in net has been a key to the team’s success, stressed the importance of dedication in practice and on the ice.

“I think we’ve gotten off to a pretty good start here, and we definitely want to end the first half on a positive note with six games remaining,” Morris said. “Each game is important and each practice is important, so we kind of go in there with the business mindset that each time you step on the ice you’re trying to get better.”

The Irish will take on RPI at Houston Field House in Troy, New York, on Friday evening. The puck will drop at 7:05 p.m.