March 17, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Defensive Option

Notre Dame Blue Liners Step Up In Postseason

by James V. Dowd/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — With the likes of Erik Condra and Ryan Thang leading the way up front, No. 1 Notre Dame hasn't needed a whole lot of offense from its blue liners this season.

In fact, defensive stars Wes O'Neill and Brock Sheahan had only managed four goals between them before this evening's 3-0 CCHA semifinal victory over Lake Superior State.

Yet somehow, some way, as the Lakers tied up the Notre Dame forwards so well, the paid managed to score a goal a piece en route to a place in Saturday's CCHA Championship game.

"One of the things that goes hand in hand with that is that we are playing teams that keep a lot of people back," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "If you don't have your defensemen attacking, you're not going to score. If your defense don't activate, you're not scoring and it's off transition. We spend a lot of time working on that stuff because we are not going to get scoring chances if your defense don't get involved."

Playing against a Lake Superior defense which tends to crowd around star goalkeeper Jeff Jakaitis, having the blue liners in sniper mode was particularly important.

Both O'Neill and Sheahan used Laker defensemen as shields from Jakaitis, so he had little or no chance to react to the puck before it was past him.

O'Neill, who has now scored in three consecutive games after not scoring a regular-season goal this year, credits his recent success to taking more chances from the outside.

"I think the main difference is just shooting the puck," O'Neill said. "Coach has been harping on me to just shoot, shoot, shoot. So, in the last few games, I've been getting more chances than I normally do."

And with an increased number of shots from the outside comes an increased accuracy and an improved ability to find holes in the defensive coverage.

"I take what the other team gives me," O'Neill said. "At this level of hockey, everybody's great a blocking shots. I just try and find some seams and get a hold of them. We have some pretty good passers on the team and I'm lucky enough to get some breaks and the puck gets into the net."

Heading into the CCHA title game against the sharpshooting Fighting Irish, Michigan coach Red Berenson knows that his team must be sure to pressure the defenders more than Lake Superior State did.

"You have to be aware of the defense coming up," Berenson said. "On the power play they've got some guys that can shoot the puck when they get in the right spot. We have to be aware of all five guys on the ice."

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