Jan 24, 2013, 2:53 PM EDT
In my preview last week, I wrote that the Irish were hoping to use the Alaska series as a way to get out of a disappointing 1-3 stretch. Coming back from a four-game, eight-day road trip, this was the time to get back on track. Junior defenseman Stephen Johns said they were treating it like the last weekend of the year and even referred to it as a make-or-break series.
So, after Alaska won with three seconds left on Friday and with two goals on the same five-minute power play on Saturday, I expected the level of urgency to be dialed up to Zero Dark Thirty levels at Wednesday’s post-practice media session.
“What’s going on, guys?” asked a smiling Steven Summerhays as he walked up to the front of the interview room. When the junior goaltender sat down, a reporter asked him how he was in return.
“Eh, it’s up and down, I guess,” he joked, with a laugh and a grin you wouldn’t expect from a goalie who gave up seven goals in the last series – well above his usual weekend total of 3.6.
“I feel sharp. I feel just like I did before break. I’m seeing the puck really well,” he said. “Most goals that they’re scoring are deflections off our own guys or their guys, power play rebounds that their guys are tapping in. They’re not scoring too many straight-in shots.”
“I feel fine, not too worried about it.”
Contrary to my expectations, not worrying seemed to be the theme of the week as Irish players exuded confidence and stability. Because of the schedule of the last two weeks (three games each week), this is the first time since before the break that the team got a normal practice schedule. And as the players are quick to point out, even with the current slide, the Irish are tied with Western Michigan atop the CCHA standings.
“Six games in 11 days is tough in college,” junior defenseman Kevin Lind said. “It was tough, but there’s definitely no panic in the room or anything. Guys know what we have to do. And despite losing five out of six games, we’re still in first place.
“Every team has their rough spots. We’re just happy it’s getting out of the way now instead of later.”
Although the team is staying relaxed and confident, Summerhays said the players have had multiple meetings to figure out where their game needs improving, and sophomore forward Peter Schneider said the approach to adversity this year is night-and-day from the second-half slide that doomed 2011-2012.
“It’s completely different. We are very confident that we are going to turn this thing around this weekend,” he said. “It’s obviously been a slump, but we are very strong as a team. We’re very close, and we’re going to turn this thing around. This weekend.”
To get out of the rut, the Irish will have to beat a Ferris State team that is just two points back in the standings (a win is worth three points) and riding a six-game stretch in which the Bulldogs have lost only once.
“These are big games. We know it, and just like Alaska we know that they’re going to work hard,” Lind said. “Coach [Jeff Jackson] tells us all the time, if we outwork somebody, we’re going to win because we’re talented and we work hard. So they’re going to be good games, they’re going to be close games, they’re going to be low-scoring games because they’re so good defensively.”
As usual, the opening game starts at 7:35 in Compton Family Ice Arena tomorrow night, while the finale begins at 7:05 on Saturday.
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