March 27, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Notre Dame Finds Its Balance

by Michael King/CHN Reporter

Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson was solid in the OT win. (photo: Josh Gibney)

Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson was solid in the OT win. (photo: Josh Gibney)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Last weekend during the CCHA playoffs, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson noticed something about his team. Not only did the results on the ice conflict with a season's worth of success, the players didn't have the same temperament as he came accustomed to expecting.

Following a 6-2 loss to Miami that expelled Notre Dame from the conference tournament, Jackson knew that whatever problems plagued his players needed to be cured immediately if the Irish wanted to advance deep into the NCAA tournament.

"I felt much better about our team [Saturday]," Jackson said after his team's 4-3 overtime win against Merrimack. "I assumed we were really focused last weekend, but after watching us play it was clear that wasn't true. We were uptight."

In Notre Dame's last regular-season series against Western Michigan, Jackson had the opposite problem. His players were too enthusiastic in the locker room before the game, which led to the Irish taking multiple penalties early in the game, and ultimately a loss. Regardless, his team's inconsistency was a cause for concern.

Jackson didn't do anything remarkable during the week preceding the NCAA tournament. He simply proved his ability as a coach and connected with his players.

"We had a serious discussion about it earlier in the week," he said. "The guys opened up to me and told me what was going on in the locker room and all that. You tend to play a lot better when you're loose and have energy in the locker room."

Junior winger Billy Maday, who scored the team's game-tying goal late in the third period against Merrimack, echoed his coach's sentiments.

"[Compared with the CCHA playoffs] where we were a lot calmer in the locker room, we knew that the chemistry of our team and the closeness could overcome any deficit we faced," he said.

The Irish are built around a core of young and highly productive players, typically dressing 15-16 underclassmen per night. The team's two most accomplished offensive players — Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan — are both freshmen. With such a composition, growing pains are to be expected.

"This is still a work in progress in some regards with all these young kids," Jackson said.

Even with substantial youth, Notre Dame experienced few problems with the conflict that can come from freshmen taking ice time away from upperclassmen. Maday believes that the team's unique qualities lend itself to handling difficult situations.

"We've been through a lot of adversity this year and we've experienced enough where we can come back from several goals down," he said.

Even during Saturday's game, Jackson had to work to keep his team focused. After a strong third period where the team outshot Merrimack 17-4, the Irish seemed to lack that passion during the first five minutes of overtime. The situation was disconcerting enough for Jackson to call timeout.

Although Jackson admits using the timeout at that juncture was an obvious decision, he believed, if Merrimack were allowed any more sustained pressure then the game would not go in their favor.

"I just told our guys to calm down," he said, describing the timeout. "We were turning pucks over. The pressure was on us so if I could have called it earlier, I would have. Sometimes you have to call a timeout to change the momentum of a game, and this was one of those times."

The coach was rewarded less than one minute later as freshman forward Anders Lee scored the game-winning goal on a hustle-play, and a bad giveaway, coming from behind the Merrimack net. It was a goal — though perhaps not quite a fitting end for such a competitive hockey game — that was the direct result of Jackson regaining control of his team during the timeout.

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