Feb 8, 2013, 8:41 AM EDT
Way back in November, I wrote a preview about our road series against Michigan, which ended up being Notre Dame’s first sweep at Yost Arena since 1978. Since then, the Wolverines have gone 6-12-1 and are currently sitting in a tie with Bowling Green for eighth place in the CCHA.
In that preview I may have mentioned how much, uh … lack of fondness I have for the program that has made its feelings towards Notre Dame well documented over the years. So, in light of the Wolverines’ struggles, it is not difficult for me to view their season with a little Schadenfreude. Unfortunately, my joy is diminished by the fact that the Irish are also trying to get out of a skid, having gone 2-7-1 so far in the second half.
The good news is the Irish are coming off a 2-2 road tie (with a shootout victory) against Ohio State, playing what head coach Jeff Jackson called the team’s best game since the Christmas break. The shots were 47-22 in favor of the Irish, who earned two points in the standings out of a possible three with the shootout win.
“We played a really simple game,” junior center Anders Lee said. “We had a lot of energy, and we didn’t hang on to the puck too long. We made plays. It definitely looked like us from the first half [of the season]. We almost had 50 shots on net, and that’s a big part of it.”
Meanwhile, Michigan is coming off a sweep of Michigan State with last November still fresh in the players’ minds. With both teams coming out of ruts and just a handful of games left in the season, the squads are on course for a crucial collision this weekend.
“They looked pretty darn good to me against Michigan State,” Jackson said. “I mean, both nights they dominated Michigan State. To me, they look like the team that was picked to be second in the country at the beginning of the year.”
Despite the two teams’ struggles of late, this weekend has all the makings of an outstanding series: two extremely talented teams trying to come out of a skid and make some noise before the end of the regular season. And most importantly, it’s Notre Dame vs. Michigan in Compton Family Ice Arena.
And, oh yeah, these two teams have no idea when they’re going to play each other again. With the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference and Notre Dame’s move to Hockey East, this is the last regular season matchup scheduled between the two schools.
“I love the Michigan series. It’s always my favorite of the year. I grew up in a family who loves the maize and blue, so I even grew up a Michigan fan. I gladly switched over to Notre Dame, but I always have a little extra energy in those games because you want to win it that bad,” junior forward Mike Voran said.
“I mean, you feel it in the weekend. Maybe not the actual history of everything, but you definitely know that the universities have a rivalry, not just the hockey programs,” junior forward Jeff Costello added. “It’s definitely something special to be a part of.”
With penalties causing a lot of Notre Dame’s problems of late (the Irish have given up 10 power play goals in the last six games), the players will try to keep the emotions of the game to a minimum. But that’s easier said than done when Michigan comes to town.
“Having the right mindset going in is the biggest thing,” Costello said. “It’s basically trying to take yourself out of the equation, not put your own personal stuff in front of the team’s. It’s easy to get caught up in a bad call or if someone cheap shots you, but when you’re sitting in the penalty box and they have a power play, it’s a terrible feeling. So that’s something you’ve got to keep in the back of your mind when the tempers start flaring.”
There’s a fine line between playing physical and playing undisciplined. If the players are keeping their emotions in check, there could be a fear of not playing physical enough. But not this weekend.
“Anytime we play Michigan it’s always intense,” Jackson said. “I don’t need to get them more physically engaged. That’ll happen naturally.”
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