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Notre Dame Off to an Unexpectedly Sluggish Start

October 27, 2009

I’m a huge Notre Dame fan. A lot of my family is both A) From South Bend and B) Catholic, so it seems that loving the Golden Domers is a family thing. I’ve been following Notre Dame hockey the last few seasons with a heightened level of expectancy. The coaching of Jeff Jackson, now in his fifth season, has turned the program around from a struggling member of the CCHA to a two-time conference champion and a national runner-up in 2008.

Last season saw Notre Dame fall just short of reaching the Frozen Four, but still had a solid season with a record of 31-6-3. Expectation was high for this program at the start of the season, including a #5 pre-season ranking that included two first place votes, yet the Fighting Irish have started out with losses to Alabama-Huntsville and Providence. If you can’t tell, Alabama-Huntsville and Providence are not exactly hockey powerhouses. While Notre Dame did split both of the two game sets, the splits are almost inexcusable.  How does a team ranked so highly, with such a great recent history fall so hard?

I’m not alone in wondering, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy recently addressed this same question.

So what’s wrong? Are the Irish ill-prepared for this season?

The Irish lost six seniors from last season, a group of five skaters and one goaltender that contributed 45 goals, 61 assists and an overall +/- of  +50. It’s not surprising that Notre Dame is struggling out of the gate when a group that accounted for 28% of the team’s points last season is gone. This group also includes last season’s starting goaltender, Jordan Pearce who notched 30 wins with a save percentage of .931 for the Irish during the 2008-09 campaign.

While Pearce’s replacement has done a decent job of replacing him with a save percentage currently of .918, Brad Phillips still has a ways to go to bring his numbers up.

So what’s the problem with Notre Dame hockey? It’s not the schedule. It doesn’t seem to be the goaltending. Perhaps it’s the offense.

The Irish currently have out shot their opponents 193-153 and have a higher shooting percentage than the teams they have faced. While the team has complained of poor offense, it appears they’re fairing better than the teams they play.

The team’s penalty kill unit has been quite successful this season, allowing only two goals on 31 total penalties. The power play unit has also been impressive, converting 16% of their power play attempts.

Defense isn’t the problem either, as the Irish are currently ranked 12th in team defense for Division I, allowing only 1.67 goals per game.

So what is the problem? As cliche as it sounds, I believe the problem is consistency and attitude. Last year, Notre Dame was often ranked #1 in the country, only one year removed from participating in the National Championship game. As I’ve experienced in my lifetime, when a team thinks they don’t have to take an opponent seriously, that’s when they often lose. This may or may not be true for the Irish, but it makes the losses to Alabama-Huntsville and Providence a lot easier to swallow. Additionally, Notre Dame did split both series with those teams so consistency may play a huge role in this.

The season is still young, but if Notre Dame doesn’t turn it around soon, they may find themselves in a place they didn’t expect to be…last.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2009 4:00 am

    I had no idea that Notre Dame had such a good hockey team. That makes me wanna go to a game real bad.

    • October 28, 2009 9:00 am

      I’m going to the game in Fort Wayne on November 22nd. Would you like to attend with me?

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