Team of the Week: Notre Dame
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
On Nov. 9, Notre Dame dropped a 3-1 decision to Boston College at Conte Forum. Stifled by BC goaltender Parker Milner and frustrated with their performance, the Irish players headed back to South Bend, Ind., knowing, at least, they played well enough to defeat the defending national champions; well enough to win in a building BC hasn't lost in since Dec. 2, 2011.
Still, ignoring the result and taking the positives from the defeat seemed to motivate the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame found itself on the road again last weekend, and swept conference rival Michigan in a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The pair of wins gave Notre Dame its first sweep at Yost since February 4, 1978, and for that, the Fighting Irish are CHN's Team of the Week.
The series with Michigan marked the debut of freshman winger Mario Lucia, one of the most sought after players in the country in recent years. Lucia suffered a leg injury over the summer, forcing him to sit out the first portion of the Notre Dame schedule. Lucia's return to the lineup added even more depth to the Irish's forward lines, and all four units contributed in the pair of wins in Ann Arbor.
"Scoring balance is always a good thing, and it was especially important at Michigan," ND coach Jeff Jackson said. "Teams have last change at home, and they can match up to their favor. Contributions from all four lines are important when a team can try to take away certain players."
Ten different Notre Dame players recorded points in the series, and Jackson pointed to specific players who impressed him over the weekend who have done so consistently throughout the year. This is a welcomed sign for Jackson, whose team struggled to perform from weekend to weekend a season ago following a Frozen Four bid in 2010-11. He's noticed improvements in this area this season with his players maintaining their focus level and avoiding letdowns in games.
The Fighting Irish likely won't struggle to get up for this weekend's series, as North Dakota comes to town. However, a critical CCHA series with Lake Superior State followers, and Jackson now knows his team will be mentally prepared for that one as well.
"Consistency was a definitely a focal point for us coming into the season, and we've seen improvements there," Jackson said. "A lot of guys came in knowing they had to trust the process and keep their focus on their work every day. Then, they know they have to elevate it every night. Not just when we're playing teams with name recognition, like Boston College or North Dakota.
"I like playing those teams because they're going to make us better. But we had problems last year with good against top teams and then we'd struggle against some teams without the name recognition."
UND's success in 2010-11 may have caused many of the problems it experienced a season ago. With 12 freshmen on a Frozen Four team, the 2011-12 edition of Notre Dame experienced some problems with complacency. These issues aren't uncommon for clubs heavy on sophomores. Notre Dame's problem was that many failed to elevate their game from a strong freshman season to an even better second year.
"We had a lot of players have very strong freshman years, and they came in last year with the wrong mindset," Jackson said. "Certain guys struggled as sophomores. They have some success, and they come in the next year thinking things are going to be easier."
With North Dakota in town this weekend, the 8-3-0 Fighting Irish find themselves in strong position through the first half. With early Pairwise numbers available and conference standings starting to fill out a bit, Notre Dame has put itself in a good place moving forward. A pair of wins over North Dakota would do even more to cement the Fighting Irish as a likely contender for, at the very least, an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.