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November 22, 2012

Yost busters surge forward

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Some current players remember all too well the last time the Notre Dame hockey team went on the road and swept Michigan at Yost Arena.

Or at least a couple of them might recall their fathers talking about it. No. 6 Notre Dame beat Michigan twice at Yost last weekend, doing so for the first time since 1978. Back then the fathers of forwards Kevin Nugent and Mario Lucia were both on the team.

Given that it's been so long, this group carries with it unprecedented momentum into a non-conference matchup with No. 7 North Dakota later this week.

"Any time you can go into Yost and sweep them in that building I think your confidence has to be pretty high," goaltender Steven Summerhays said. "It's been, what? Close to 30 years? It's a good feeling of accomplishment to do that."

The Irish used strong third periods and steady play from Summerhays to execute the sweep.

During both games they broke 1-1 ties in the final 20 minutes to secure victory. Winger Bryan Rust scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 with less than six minutes to play before Peter Schneider added another for a 3-1 final. Jeff Costello netted the game-winner at 11:41 of the third period in Game 2 before goals followed by Mario Lucia and Robbie Russo for a 4-1 score.

Total it all together and Notre Dame (8-3-0) played the third periods to a 5-0 advantage. In fact, Michigan managed to score in the second period or later on just one of its two goals the entire series.

"We didn't back off," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "That's probably the biggest difference right now that I can see from a year ago. Not sitting back. We're playing in the third period now to win the games. I thought we were a little bit tentative at times in the second period, not playing with that same level of aggressiveness.

"But I thought the third period both nights we played to win and didn't play not to lose. I think that's something that is a change in mindset."

Not lost on the parties involved was a sterling effort from Summerhays, who has started to distinguish himself has one of the top goaltenders in the country.

Summerhays played all the minutes against Michigan, registering a .963 save percentage with just the two goals allowed. He is now No. 4 nationally with a 1.51 goals-against average and No. 10 with a .939 save percentage.

"There's a physical maturity and a mental, emotional maturity he's developed over the last couple years," Jackson said. "I think he's got a good attitude right now, a good approach. His focus is good. I have to remind him once in awhile that he's gotta put a bit more effort into practice occasionally. He gets into bad habits sometimes. As long as I can keep him out of that, I think he'll continue to be successful."

Lucia returns to action

One of the most touted freshmen in the country is back in the lineup sooner than expected.

Lucia, a forward from Plymouth, Minn., made his college debut last weekend after suffering a broken leg late in the offseason. Rehab had gone well enough to give Jackson confidence in playing him one game. Lucia played two and scored a goal.

"Part of rehab is the actual competition," Jackson said. "The competitive environment. He got a little bit of that in practice last week but he really needed to get some game type of experiences. Conditioning, getting hit, to know that he's gonna be OK. It's a confidence level. I knew coming back Friday night that he would be better, and he was."

Now the process of getting Lucia into top form is just about time logged on the ice. The hope is things will round into shape in time for him to be invited to tryouts for the U.S. National World Junior, which begins actual competition in Russia on Dec. 26.

"That's going to be out of my hands," Jackson said. "But we'll see how he does in the next six games here and see where he's at."

Punishing penalty kill

It has become tougher and tougher to score an power-play goal against Notre Dame over the last month.

Since surrendering a goal with the man advantage against Western Michigan on Nov. 2 the Irish have killed 16 consecutive penalties. Their penalty kill percentage is up to 90.9 and sits fifth in the country.

"It's about hard work and we kind of all work as a unit," Rust said. "If one guys goes and pressures we all go and pressure. Obviously, the forecheck is huge if we're able to create turnovers before they get to the blue line or we force them to dump it in. If we force them to dump it in we're usually first to the puck. It's just hard work, communication and, obviously, we have great goaltending."

League awards

Two Notre Dame players garnered Central Collegiate Hockey Association awards this week for their efforts in sweeping Michigan.

Russo won Defenseman of the Week after scoring two goals and adding an assist. He is now tied for third on the team in scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists) and is alone in third with 10 blocked shots.

Summerhays pulled in Goaltender of the Week honors after making 52 saves on the weekend.



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