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November 8, 2012

Irish look to slow No. 1

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Sometimes all they can do is grit their teeth and accept the forthcoming bruise.

Putting their body in precarious situations is part of life as a hockey player, whether it be taking a hit against the boards or clogging up the lanes through which opponents want to shoot. Perhaps in no other part of the game does the latter come up more than on the penalty kill.

Giving up shots from distance during the regular run of play is usually the sign of a defense keeping things in check. But when there is one less man on the ice it’s just that much easier to sneak a shot through and cause mayhem at the goalmouth.

Often enough power-play goals begin with a shot from the point that somehow finds its way on net, only to be stopped by the goaltender. The ensuing rebound, if given, can prove costly.

Shutting down those shooting lanes with more ice to cover usually means it’s time to get in the way.

“You’re gonna have to let them do some certain things because you can’t guard everything,” said Mike Voran, one of Notre Dame’s penalty killers. “When that happens you’ve gotta be ready to get your body in front of a puck.”

Eighth-ranked Notre Dame (6-2-0) will be facing one of its toughest penalty kill tests of the season starting at 7 p.m. Friday night when the puck drops at No. 1 Boston College.

The Eagles come in with the best power play unit in the country. It’s connecting at a 40 percent clip on the season (10-25) and forward Kevin Hayes leads the nation in power-play goals with four. That production has helped churn out 3.29 goals per game.

“You just have to contain them,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “You can’t allow them to get backdoor goals. You can’t allow them to have odd-man rushes on the power play. You have to try to do a decent job on face offs. The other thing that always shows up in situations like that is clears, getting the puck down the ice.

“If you make a mistake or two not getting the puck out, that’s when it usually bites you because that’s when you get tired and make mistakes.”

So far the Notre Dame penalty kill has been solid if unspectacular, keeping things scoreless 87 percent (27-31) of the time. Two of those power-play goals against came last Friday in a 3-2 loss to Western Michigan, a series the Irish would split.

In the second game, a 4-0 win, they killed all three Western Michigan power plays.

Keeping a clean sheet in those situations might be near impossible Friday night in Boston but limiting opportunities is probably critical to success. Special teams often times come up big in matchups between premier teams.

“I know their power play is doing extremely well right now,” forward T.J. Tynan said. “We have to be aware of that. Special teams plays a large role I think in every game because you know at some point you’re gonna have to kill a penalty or go on the power play and try to score a goal. You’ve got to be aware of that and be ready whenever it happens.”

Lucia stays on track

Not a week goes by with more progress to report as freshman forward Mario Lucia rehabs a leg injury suffered late in the offseason.

Lucia remains on schedule to return sometime around Thanksgiving weekend, which lines up with the North Dakota series. He has returned to practice in a limited fashion by participating in drills without contact. That should be changing soon.

“He’s still wearing the red jersey,” Jackson said. “He still can’t have contact but he’s slowly coming back around. Hopefully in the next week here we’ll get the red jersey off him and he’ll start getting banged around a little bit so he can get back into that game mentality.”

Freshman contributions

Even without Lucia in the lineup Jackson has had no shortage of freshmen finding their way into the box score.

Headlining the group right now is forward Steven Fogarty, who is second on the team in goals scored with three. Anders Lee has five. Fogarty is also shooting the highest percentage with just 17 shots total on the season.

“Showing signs,” Jackson said after Fogarty scored against Western Michigan last Sunday. “Showed signs a week ago. People can see his raw ability. He’s got great poise with the puck. The biggest thing for him is to learn consistency and he needs to be engaged when he plays the game. I thought he showed signs of that (Sunday) where he has a little bit more oomph to his game.”

DiPauli has two points (one goal, one assist) and has been featured on one of the penalty kill units. Forward Sam Herr has played in five games and has yet to register a point. Defenseman Andy Ryan has two assists while splitting time with junior Jared Beers in the six spot on the blue line.

Lee wins league award

Lee grabbed CCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against Western Michigan. The Irish captain had a four-point series with three goals and one assist.


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