After a conference layoff of football bowl season proportions, No. 2 Notre Dame jumps back into the Central Collegiate Hockey Association farewell tour this weekend with a pair of games at Michigan State.
Head coach Jeff Jackson said Notre Dame's current eight-day road trip will test its depth.
The Irish(14-5, 10-1) last took the ice against CCHA competition on Dec. 15, a 4-1 victory over Bowling Green that gave them an eight-game winning streak and the best league start in program history. A win Friday night would also set the mark for the school's longest CCHA win streak.
“We’ve got to get off to a good start here in the second half,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “It’s not going to be easy playing on the road for the next few games. We have to get back home for a couple weeks and get back in to a normal routine again.”
Jackson’s team is in the middle of a four-game road trip packed into eight days. The Irish lost to No. 1 Minnesota Tuesday night, 4-1, at Mariucci Arena in their first game back from the holiday break. Jackson said some players are already “dinged up,” and he expects to have to shuffle his lineup card during the remainder of the trip.
“It’s kind of like an NHL schedule for us right now. We’ll have to test our depth,” he said.
Sophomore forward Garrett Peterson could add an extra layer to Notre Dame’s bench as early as this weekend. Peterson missed the first half of the regular season for undisclosed personal reasons. He scored two goals and added two assists while playing in 20 games as a freshman last year.
The Chicago native had shoulder surgery last spring that kept him off the ice until late October or early November. The operation corrected a lingering injury, but had nothing to do with his absence from the team during the fall semester. He is still a candidate to redshirt this season and save a year of eligibility, but Jackson said he’s currently leaning toward working him back into the mix in the near future.
“He certainly brings us a little bit more speed. He’s a pretty gritty player, a high energy player, so he might be able to help us in those areas,” Jackson said.
The Spartans drag a 5-12-3 overall record (4-9-1 in conference) to Munn Arena this weekend. Two of those losses came at the hands of Notre Dame in a sweep at the start of December.
Notre Dame’s hot start, while unprecedented, doesn’t mean the Irish are ready to run away with the CCHA’s final league title. They finished the first half 7-1-3 last season before collapsing and missing the NCAA Tournament. They have yet to play a series against Miami, Ferris State or Ohio State — three of the top five teams in the current standings.
The Michigan State games are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday night. They will be televised locally by Comcast Channel 3 in South Bend.
- Freshman forward Mario Lucia is still feeling the effects of jet lag from his gold medal trip last week, according to Jackson. Lucia was a member of the U.S. National Team that won the World Junior Classic in Ufa, Russia.
“He didn’t play a ton but he had a great experience,” Jackson said. “Being part of a gold medal championship was extremely beneficial to him. I think maybe not playing as much as he would’ve liked might help him, too.”
- Notre Dame has practiced only once since starting the second half of the season. They will likely only get one or two more “short and sweet” sessions in during the next week of travel and games.
The team stayed in Minnesota Wednesday where some local players had a chance to see their families and traveled directly to East Lansing from there. They’ll return to South Bend Saturday night and leave Monday night for a Tuesday game at Bowling Green.