Notre Dame hockey: Irish seek home ice in league tourney

Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- The postseason technically doesn’t begin until March 7, but Notre Dame has been in playoff mode for a few weeks now.

Ever since being swept at New Hampshire to open February, it’s been no secret that the Irish are fighting for their postseason lives. Last weekend, they got a playoff-worthy performance from their senior goaltender.

Steven Summerhays was named the Hockey East defensive player of the week after stopping 83 of 85 shots at No. 9 Providence. That total included a career-high 47 saves in Friday’s 2-2 tie, and his national-best sixth shutout in Saturday’s 3-0 win.

“He played well,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “He was the difference.”

Those three important Hockey East points pushed No. 15 Notre Dame (17-12-2, 6-9-2) into a tie for seventh place with Vermont, but still five points behind fifth-place Northeastern. The Huskies also have a game-in-hand on the Irish, meaning a top-five finish and first round bye in the Hockey East tournament will be highly unlikely. But a top-eight finish and home ice in the first round is looking like a very good possibility.

That is, if the Irish can hold serve at home this weekend against a struggling Boston University team that comes in at 8-18-4, and 0-9-1 on the road. The Terriers are still trying to find their way under first-year coach David Quinn, who took over for BU legend Jack Parker.

In Parker’s 40 years, he won three national championships and ranks third all-time with 897 wins.

Of Boston’s eight wins this year, five have come against ranked teams (Wisconsin, North Dakota, Providence, Vermont, Cornell), but the Terriers are 0-5-2 over their last seven games.

After coming up big on the road, Summerhays and the rest of the Irish seniors must stay hot if they want to ensure that this weekend does not end up being their final one at Compton Family Ice Arena.

“BU is going to be playing some of their best hockey, and we’ve got to approach it the same way,” Summerhays said. “We can’t look at it as our last home game here. We’ve just got to look at it as two (league) points, and two very big points.”

But Summerhays has done this before. Down the stretch last season, when the Irish rode a nine-game unbeaten streak to the final CCHA Mason Cup title in Detroit and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Summerhays went 6-0-2 in that stretch with a 1.59 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

“He played to that caliber (at Providence),” Jackson said. “He was totally engaged, he was focused, and that’s the only way you win on the road. I’ve been saying it for the past month — special teams and goaltending.”

With a couple more weekends like the one Summerhays had at Providence, Notre Dame should be feeling pretty good about its postseason chances.

“If we’re going to have any chance to do anything in the playoffs, he’s going to have to be like that,” Jackson said.

“Like last year, we’ve kind of been building on how we’ve been playing,” Summerhays said. “It comes down to winning Friday night. Once everyone stopped worrying about where we were sitting in the standings and just kind of taking it one game at a time is when we really started to play more of our kind of hockey.”

Senior Night

Notre Dame will honor its 11-man senior class during Saturday’s game, which could potentially be their final appearance at Compton. The large group — consisting of Summerhays, Jeff Costello, T.J. Tynan, Stephen Johns, Bryan Rust, Shayne Taker, Kevin Lind, Jared Beers, Mike Voran, David Gerths and Joe Rogers — is 86-57-13 entering this weekend, with a CCHA tournament title, two NCAA tournament trips and one Frozen Four appearance among its list of accomplishments.

With just three regular season games to go, all focus is on extending their final season in South Bend for as long as possible and adding to that list.

“We’re focused that we’ve still got a job to do here,” Costello said. “If we don’t come to play this weekend, this could be our last few games here. We really need to build on our effort level and intensity level that we had last weekend.”

Gerths doubtful

Gerths scored his first goal of the season in the first period of Saturday’s game. A few minutes later, the Irish center took a hard shot and left with an upper body injury that will likely keep him out of this weekend’s games, according to Jackson.

“He scored his first goal of the season, and then he gets hurt,” Jackson said. “That’s the way things have gone this year.”

Moving up

With a goal and an assist Friday night at Providence, Tynan edged up a spot in Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list, surpassing Jamie Ling to take over 14th place with 154 points. Eric Condra is next on the list at No. 13 with 158 points. Tynan also needs two more assists to equal Ling’s career mark of 102.

WHO: Boston University (8-18-4, 3-10-2 Hockey East) vs. No. 15 Notre Dame (17-12-2, 6-9-2)

WHEN: 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Compton Family Ice Arena

TICKETS: Standing room available for both nights

TV: NBC Sports Network (Friday only)


TWITTER: @NDHockeySBT; @NDHockey