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Irish Prepare for Thanksgiving Meeting with North Dakota

Nov 23, 2012, 10:16 AM EDT

So far this season, there have been a few “first since” comments about the hockey team.

For instance, this weekend Notre Dame will playing North Dakota at home for the first time since 1981. The Irish are coming off a road sweep of rival Michigan for the first time since 1978. When they face Lake Superior State Nov. 30, it will be the first time since Oct. 13 that the Irish play an unranked team.

When you have as brutal a stretch as Notre Dame has had this season, it comes with the territory.

On Friday the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux will make the trip to South Bend for the first time since the two teams were WCHA conference foes. Since then, the two teams have only met five times – four in Grand Forks and once in the Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

The games on Friday and Saturday will be the 10th and 11th consecutive games against ranked opponents for Notre Dame. So far, the Irish are 6-3, coming off that sweep of Michigan in Yost Arena. As I said, the first since 1978, when team parents Kevin Nugent, Sr. and Don Lucia played for the Irish.

Don’s son, freshman Mario Lucia, actually played his first minutes for Notre Dame last weekend, recovering from a broken leg he suffered in the offseason. He scored a goal in the 4-1 victory on Friday night.

This weekend might have a little extra meaning for Lucia, since his father, Don, is the coach of Minnesota’s hockey team – the archrival of the former Fighting Sioux. Don’t be surprised if some of the North Dakota players finish their checks on Lucia a little more thoroughly this weekend.

If the Irish can take one or two from this series, they will be in good shape when they continue conference play – Notre Dame has the best conference record in the CCHA at 5-1. Head coach Jeff Jackson has said he likes scheduling difficult nonconference matchups – such as Minnesota-Duluth, Boston College, North Dakota, and Minnesota – to better prepare his team for league games.

So far, it looks like his philosophy has been successful. Notre Dame has lost two of its nonconference games, but is poised to make a run in the CCHA if successful this weekend.

The last time the Irish swept North Dakota? 1977. In a season of “first since” comments, here’s hoping for one more.

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