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A New Look for the Slumping Irish

Notre Dame needs a slump-buster. Why not try a fresh look?

Irish senior Nick Larson models the jerseys Notre Dame wil wear this weekend to help raise money for a military charity.

The seventh-ranked Irish have lost their last four games and five of their last six. They host Ferris State in a pair of games this weekend where a loss in either one could oust Notre Dame from the first-place perch it’s held since the first weeks of conference play. A return to a regular routine for the first time this month could help. For the superstitious, the Irish are breaking out new uniforms as well.

The retro-style jerseys are part of a previously planned fundraiser to help raise money for military families involved with hockey. Senior forward Nick Larson spearheaded the plans to raise money for Defending the Blue Line, a Minnesota-based group he has worked with in the past.

The charity provides equipment and support to help keep kids on the ice when their parents are serving overseas or in training, according to founder Shane Hudella. He started the organization in 2009 and recently retired after 22 years in the Army to work full time at Defending the Blue Line. They have raised over $1 million and send out roughly 20 sets of hockey equipment to military kids each week.

“Last year during the season the light bulb went on with all of us that we’ve got a world class organization in Notre Dame and Nick’s going into his senior year,” said Hudella, who attended the Commander-and-Chief’s Ball in Washington, D.C., earlier this week because of his charity work. “The Larsons approached Notre Dame on our behalf and told them about our program. They were excited to put something like this weekend on the menu for this season.”

Larson learned about the group through his father, Dan, who has been a volunteer advisor since it started. The Irish senior has played in all-star events with other college and pro players to help raise money. This summer he spent time with the kids of a deployed solider, playing pick-up hockey in the street.

“It’s great you see the kids at the rink and they’re so happy to be around the rink. I feel it’s important to give back to these kids to keep them in the game,” Larson said.

The team is currently holding an online auction to sell the jerseys they plan to wear this weekend. Each jersey is expected to bring in at least $200.

Larson will also play a key role on the ice this weekend for an Irish team missing a couple key contributors. The third-line center said his line has tried to stay focused on playing their role — to grind away at opponents and avoid mistakes. But Notre Dame’s top two lines are struggling to produce on the scoreboard and pressure to find other sources of offense is beginning to mount.

“We’ve been light a little bit in the scoring department,” he said. “It would be nice for our line to score if we can, but we’re still focusing on playing the game we need to play. …Everybody wants to score that big goal.”

Opponents have held the Irish to one goal in five of their seven games in January. Injuries to junior forwards Mike Voran and Jeff Costello have jumbled Notre Dame’s two scoring lines and forced them to try to create chemistry on the fly.

Sophomore Peter Schneider, who has filled one of the vacancies on those lines, said he didn’t think the new pairings were a problem for the team in the past couple weeks. A full week of practice should help the forwards assimilate, but more importantly, says Schneider, it gave them a chance to get back to basics.

“I think if you focus back on the details you go back from where you started it gets the team going again,” he said. “You know, play simple. That’s what you should do in times like this.”

Voran still has at least one week before he returns to the ice after crashing into a goal post on Jan. 15. Costello skated this week and has been listed as day-to-day since Jan. 11.

Friday’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:35 p.m. and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

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