Mar 1, 2013, 11:30 AM EDT
As Notre Dame returns home for its final series of the regular season, there is still much to play for when Bowling Green comes to town this weekend. Although they have the three-seed locked up in the CCHA tournament, the Irish aren’t out of the woods yet, ranked 14th in the PairWise rankings that help determine national tournament seedings. Sixteen teams make the final tournament.
“We’re right on the bubble,” junior defenseman Shayne Taker said. “You don’t want to be in that position, hoping for other teams to lose. When it comes down to it, you want to give yourself enough cushion where you control your own destiny.”
Meanwhile, Notre Dame is still chasing Western Michigan in the CCHA standings in the hopes of securing the two-seed for the conference championships. Western is one point ahead, so if the Broncos lose or tie a game at Michigan State, an Irish sweep can put Notre Dame in second.
“When we get to Joe Louis [in the CCHA tournament], getting last change with second place is huge, so there’s a lot of things going into this weekend,” Taker said.
After starting the second half 2-7-1, the Irish have pulled themselves out of their slump, going 3-1-2 over their last 7 games – facing Ohio State, Michigan, first-place Miami, and second-place Western in the process.
Wins this weekend would keep the Irish hot going into postseason play, which senior goaltender Mike Johnson can appreciate. With Johnson in net two years ago, Notre Dame finished the regular season 5-1 en route to a Frozen Four appearance.
“We want to end the season the right way,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to go into the playoffs on a losing streak or not confident with the way we’re playing. So we want to take these games like they’re the most important games of the year, which they are.”
It will also be the last regular-season games for Johnson and the other three seniors (Sam Calabrese, Nick Larson, and Kevin Nugent). Over the last four years, the class has seen a Frozen Four run and a move to the Compton Family Ice Arena while growing as leaders.
“We’ve seen the highs and the lows of Notre Dame hockey in the past,” Calabrese said. “I think when the younger guys see a senior that’s picking up the locker room even if it’s not their stuff or just working hard in school or working hard in the locker room, just leading by example is the biggest thing.”
Although this year’s senior class is small – and sometimes dominated by a monstrous 12-person junior class – head coach Jeff Jackson knows this group’s value will be missed.
“Senior weekend’s always a little sentimental for me. I really care about all four of these kids. They’re great kids, and they’ve been good team guys,” he said. “People listen to them because they know they do things the right way. And they’re all true ND men. They’re really passionate about Notre Dame.”
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