Losing streak continues for Irish

Notre Dame has found increasingly temper-testing ways to lose hockey games since the start of January. Saturday night it was a single penalty that set the Irish on a course for defeat.

Freshman Thomas DiPauli's checking from behind major penalty cost the Irish in a 2-1 loss to Alaska Saturday.

A checking from behind game misconduct penalty on freshman Thomas DiPauli gave Alaska five minutes of a man advantage late in the first period. They squeezed two goals into a 35-second window on the power play and then hung on for 40 more minutes in a 2-1 win.

The Nanooks picked up their second sweep in as many weeks. That’s four straight wins for Alaska and four straight losses for Notre Dame, which can’t seem to find its bearings in the month of January. The team’s cushion atop the Central Collegiate Hockey Association has vanished in the process. Western Michigan caught the Irish with a win Saturday night and moved into a tie for first place in the conference.

DiPauli’s penalty zapped the energy out of a promising start for the Irish, who responded well to a fire-and-brimstone pregame approach from head coach Jeff Jackson. They controlled the first 15 minutes of play and got out to a one-goal lead midway through the first period.

Freshman Mario Lucia slipped a rebound through John Keeney’s five hole to capitalize on the lively start. The play started with a pass along the blue line to junior defenseman Stephen Johns. He fired a slap shot that jumped off on Keeney’s pads and onto Lucia’s waiting stick.

“I thought we were playing really well,” Jackson said. “I’m disappointed for our guys because I thought we were heading in the right direction tonight.”

Three minutes later DiPauli, one of the team’s most effective penalty killers, was sent to the locker room. Alaska senior Nik Yaremchuk redirected a shot from Jarret Granberg — Friday night’s hero — to tie the game. Thirty-five seconds later, center Tyler Morey beat Irish goalie Steven Summerhays for his eighth goal of the year. That’s all the scoring the Nanooks would need.

Notre Dame’s best opportunity to respond came on its own extended power play in the third period. Back-to-back Alaska penalties gave the Irish a nearly four-minute stretch on with an extra skater. By then, though, most of the team’s top scoring threats were too worn down to take advantage.

“Our power play hasn’t had the same chemistry since we lost two guys from our top two units, one from each unit,” Jackson said.

Notre Dame went 0-for-8 on the power play against Alaska this weekend, which dropped them to two for their last 24 attempts since the semester break. The special teams unit has been playing without junior Jeff Costello and Mike Voran, both out with upper body injuries. With DiPauli missing as well, the Irish couldn’t find the extra layer of depth they needed on the bench.

Jackson called timeout to give his top line a chance to catch its breath midway through the extended power play, but they quickly fizzled out after the break.

Voran will be missing for the next two to three weeks, Jackson said, and Costello is on the same day-to-day list where he has spent a good portion of the past 12 months. Jackson is hoping the team’s first full week of practice since early December will give them a chance to regroup and rekindle the chemistry they had during a 10-1 start in conference play.

“We’ve got a day off. We’ve got a good week of practice,” Jackson said. “We’ll rest [and get] back into a normal routine with school and practice.”

Notre Dame hosts Ferris State for a pair of game in South Bend next weekend.

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