Notre Dame challenge to cool torrid Northeastern

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There’s hot… And there’s Northeastern hot.

Notre Dame will have the challenge of opening its postseason Friday night against the hottest college hockey team in America.

Since starting the season on a very sluggish 3-12-3 clip, the Huskies used the new year to breathe life into the program. Since the holidays, Northeastern is 15-1-2 and is coming off two overtime wins over Maine in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, while the third-seeded Irish were enjoying a first-round bye.

No need for the 10th-ranked Irish to mull over the tape from their first series against Northeastern (a 3-2 win and 2-2 tie Nov. 12-13). The sixth-seeded Huskies who will invade the Compton Family Ice Arena are a different bunch.

“They played about eight weeks without their best player (forward Kevin Roy),” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “(During that time), other guys elevated.

“When we played them earlier in the year, we were fortunate to come out of it with three points (a win and a tie). They’ve got some really talented offensive players.”

Roy missed a dozen games with what hockey folks call an “upper-body injury,” but has come back to collect eight goals and 12 assists.

It’s a coach’s cliché, in a situation like this, to say it’s more important to look inward than at the opponent. That’s where Jackson’s focus has been the last two weeks.

“My biggest concern is that we ramp it up for a game intensity,” Jackson said. “That’s always my biggest concern on Friday nights (the first game of the series).

“It’s goaltending and special teams in the playoffs. You get to this time of the year, you’re facing the best of the best; facing the best goaltenders, best defensemen, best defensive teams.

“Generally, this time of year, it’s more likely there will be low-scoring games. It’s crucial that you have good goaltending, stay out of the penalty box, and have good special teams.”

Notre Dame’s goaltending is one of the solid areas of its game. Sophomore Cal Petersen has stepped into the ironman role while starting every game this season. Petersen has responded with a 2.12 goals-against average.

“I like to be in a position of influence,” Petersen said. “If we get through this weekend (to the Hockey East semifinals and finals) and the NCAA Tournament, it’s one-and-done hockey. Those are indicators of success. Either way (win or lose), I’m happy to be in that position.

“Everybody realizes (Northeastern) is a lot better than their record. They’re (playing well) after the new year, but so are we. It’s great to have two teams that are on a hot streak after the holidays meet at a time like this.”

The Irish realize it’s time to ratchet up the intensity.

“You’re ending a team’s season (in the playoffs),” said senior center Thomas DiPauli, who leads the Irish offense with 12 goals. “There’s desperation. Usually a team that’s willing to sacrifice, and not resort to individual play, that’s usually the team that wins in playoff hockey.

“We’ve done a great job sticking to the system. There’s really no individual play on our team, no matter what the score is.”

Win or lose this weekend, Notre Dame is in a good situation in terms of being selected for the 16-team NCAA Tournament field.

“I’m always one to say, ‘Hey, let’s put ourselves in a position to win a championship, ’” said Jackson. “Right now, we’re in that position. The most important thing for us is to get that 20th win of the season (Friday).

“We’re in decent shape (in terms of making the NCAA field), but I’m not going to focus on it. Everything is still within our control, and I prefer to keep it that way. I don’t want to be scoreboard watching next weekend, hoping we get in the tournament.

“We have to come ready to play Friday night.”

Against a team at the top of its game.

WHO: Notre Dame (19-8-7) vs. Northeastern (18-13-5)

WHERE: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend

WHAT: Hockey East second round, best-of-three series

WHEN: Friday (7:35 p.m.), Saturday (7:05), Sunday (if necessary, 7:05)

TICKETS: Available

RADIO: New Country 99.9 FM

TV: None