Last season the Notre Dame hockey team learned harsh lessons about bringing a consistent approach to each series.
While the Irish beat some of the top teams in the country, they struggled against lesser competition. Those on-again, off-again performances meant being left out of the NCAA tournament a year after making the Frozen Four.
“You kinda just looked ahead,” defenseman Sam Calabrese said. “One thing happened then another and before you knew it, it was kinda spiraling out of control a little bit. I think just day-by-day and enjoying the process. Coaches have lightened things up or changed some things around this year. We’ve having a lot of fun at the rink. I think that’s one of the biggest things.”
Applying those teaching moments will be paramount in the five games left before holiday break.
Notre Dame emerges from a challenging slate of November games against some college hockey blue bloods with a 9-4-0 record and ranked sixth in the country. Gone are marquee matchups with Western Michigan, Boston College, Michigan and North Dakota.
Instead the Irish settle into the Central Collegiate Hockey Association grind with a home series against Lake Superior State (7-7-0) this weekend followed by hosting Michigan State for two games and Bowling Green for one.
Head coach Jeff Jackson hopes to see the same preparation for an unranked opponent as he did for the last month or so.
“They’re just as much of a threat as anyone that we’ve played because that’s the way our league is,” Jackson said. “There’s no easy outs and plus we have to prove we can play well at home consistently. That’s the other big challenge. To me it’s a lot more about us than it is about them.”
Heading into Friday’s game, Notre Dame is 0-3-0 in series openers at the Compton Family Ice Arena. It has bounced back to split the series after each of those losses.
But collecting the full six points against teams lower in the league standings is a priority. Lake Superior State split last weekend against Ohio State and sits alone in sixth place. Notre Dame is tied for second with 15 points, trailing Miami by one, having played two less conference games than the others hovering around the top.
“The important thing to remember right now is that our conference is so tough it’s very hard to win two games in a row,” Jackson said. “We’re fortunate that we were able to do that on the road (against Michigan). The conference is probably as tight or tighter than it was a year ago.”
Wuthrich out for LSSU
Forward Austin Wuthrich exited during the Friday game last weekend against North Dakota after taking a hit and didn’t play the next game. Jackson confirmed an unspecified upper body injury and that Wuthrich hasn’t practiced since.
Jackson expects to be without Wuthrich, who has one goal and three assists, at least for the Lake Superior State series.
“He’s still not practicing so he’s going to be out probably this weekend,” Jackson said. “It’s not looking like he’ll play.”
CCHA fines, reprimands Jackson
Jackson went public with comments after the 2-1 loss to North Dakota last weekend that cost him a fine and public reprimand.
Earlier this week the CCHA announced it took that action against Jackson after he took the officiating to task in that Friday game. Anders Lee had scored what looked like the game-tying goal late in the third period, only for it to be waved off by official Keith Sergott.
“The CCHA offers a number of postgame means for a coach to properly express their concerns over situations and issues that may have arisen over the course of a contest,” CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch said in a statement. “There is no excuse or acceptable explanation for public comments about officials that are derogatory in nature.”
Jackson noted that he spoke with the league office about the call and the hit that resulted in an injury to Wuthrich, but declined to get into specifics.
Toss those teddy bears
Notre Dame is set to host its annual “Teddy Bear Toss” to benefit Toys for Tots on Saturday.
Fans are encouraged to bring a teddy bear to the game and throw it onto the ice during the second intermission. All the bears will be collected and donated to Toys for Tots, which will distributed them to children throughout the holiday season.
Afterward the team will return to the ice for a skate with fans. It will also be available for photos, along with Santa.