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January 25, 2013

Recent slide brings no panic

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Experience has kept the Notre Dame hockey team out of panic mode during its recent slide.

Since returning from holiday break the Irish have lost five of six, including a home sweep against Alaska last weekend. Stumbling in the second half rings familiar to last season, when a mediocre return from break devolved into the bottom falling out.

Last February came and went with just two wins, leaving a place in the NCAA tournament all but out of the question barring a deep run in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament that never materialized.

Reaction to the prolonged rut varied. For awhile the team tried to let it slide by unnoticed. Then it held meeting after meeting. None of it helped. And from all that a lesson was learned.

"Last year we tried to kinda let it blow by at points and just think we would bounce back on our own," said goaltender Steven Summerhays. "Then we tried lots of meetings. It was like nothing we were doing was working. I think this year we've just kinda been in between that a little bit."

Some realities have kept eighth-ranked Notre Dame (15-9-0, 11-5-0-0 CCHA) positive heading into its two-game home series with Ferris State (12-9-3, 10-7-1-0 CCHA) this weekend.

The Irish can lean on the standings. Even having won just a single time this month they remain atop the CCHA with 33 points, tied with Western Michigan. Miami sits one point back and Ferris State two.

Not a single preseason goal has slipped away in the last three weeks. Capturing a regular season championship, for starters, remains realistic. Sticking with that narrative while getting back into a regular schedule has been important through the practice week.

"Every team has their rough spots," said defenseman Kevin Lind. "We're just happy it's getting out of the way now instead of later like last year where toward the end of the season we just collapsed. My freshman year when we went to the Frozen Four we had a little bit of a lapse too. Like I said, it's early. We're still in first place."

After six games in 12 days, this weekend represents a return to the normal pace of college hockey. Head coach Jeff Jackson has used the practice time to dive back into some of the finer details that have been glossed over and take stock of an injury-riddled roster.

Winger Mike Voran didn't skate during practice Thursday and will not be available this weekend. Forward Sam Herr is working his way back from a bout of mononucleosis and should be in uniform. Winger Jeff Costello remains a question mark, likely a game-time decision.

Jackson feels good about the progress made on the ice and in the training room.

"I think we'll be better," Jackson said. "I think the other part of it is having everybody back in the lineup. Then I'll feel even more comfortable because that's where our chemistry was before Christmas. That chemistry just got blown away for the last three weeks."

Larson spearheads charity work

Members of Notre Dame hockey are no stranger to giving back in the form of charity work.

Earlier this season defenseman Stephen Johns raised awareness for prostate cancer and other men's health initiatives by growing a mustache and encouraging teammates to do so. Now Nick Larson is bringing another unique opportunity the Irish and their fans.

During the series this weekend Notre Dame will wear specially designed jerseys that will then be auctioned off via the athletics website. Proceeds will benefit Defending the Blue Line, an organization that helps children in military families keep playing hockey even when parents are deployed or in training.

"It helps keep hockey kids in the game," Larson said. "They support the kids by getting them equipment, getting them to rinks, putting them in programs. They also have family nights where they'll support a military family and bring them to a NHL game. So, basically, they're there for monetary support for families in need."

Larson became involved with the organization through his father, Dan, who sits on the advisory board. In that past Larson has skated in charity games and helped at other fundraising events.

This time around he hoped to use the University and local hockey fans to help the group. Larson had a hand in designing the jerseys and worked with the marketing department to put together the online auction.

"It's great," Larson said. "You see the kids at the rink and they're just so happy to be around the rink. Every kid wants to play hockey that's involved with the sport and I feel it's important to give back to these kids to keep them in the game. It's something I've always loved to do, the game of hockey that is. It's a great opportunity for me to give back."

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