Who: No. 9 Notre Dame (14-4-7) vs. No. 5 Boston College (16-4-4)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: CSN Chicago
Mario Lucia may have seemed a little lost earlier this season.
That’s life when a goal scorer isn’t scoring goals. Lucia muddled through a prolonged slump earlier this year, so much so that head coach Jeff Jackson realized he needed to make changes.
Lucia increased his goal scoring output in each of his first three years on campus from 12 as a freshman to 16 as a sophomore to 21 last year. But through 19 games this season he had just three. It was, to put it mildly, a rough stretch.
“I was getting shots and stuff,” Lucia said. “Me and my dad were looking at stuff in the past, I had the same amount of shots. They just weren’t falling. It was just a matter of time. I had to stick with the process and just focus on doing the little things. The second half, I only have one class. It’s been really nice to have a pro mentality. Come to the rink with your lunch pail, come work out, get ready for practice and get ready for the weekend.”
Jackson tried to get Lucia jump started too.
Lucia moved from his natural left wing to the right and changed lines. He’s now being centered by sophomore Connor Hurley with Thomas DiPauli on the left. They came together against Western Michigan and have since taken flight.
How about these for results? Lucia has six goals in the last six games, including a rugged game-winner last weekend against New Hampshire that sealed a series sweep.
After being stopped on an initial attempt, Lucia scored from his knees.
“It was just incredible,” Hurley said. “He was just handling the puck with so much confidence. When he’s handling the puck like that you can’t stop him. I think there were like four guys on him and he went on his knees and got the puck in. It was unbelievable to watch and play with him.”
Jackson credits an injection of speed from Hurley and DiPauli helping free space for Lucia in goal-scoring areas. But he also sees a change in Lucia, who might not have been capable of scoring that kind of rugged goal earlier in the season.
In classic hockey parlance, Lucia is playing with more “jam.”
“He’s playing with more of an edge right now,” Jackson said. “The goal he scored, the game-winning goal on Saturday night, that’s a tough goal to score. That takes a little courage. It takes intensity. He stuck with it. He was on his knees when he finally put it in the net. To me that’s the best sign of now. I see a little bit more edge to his game, a little bit more grit to his game. Now all the sudden he’s getting into those dirty areas where he has the ability to finish.”
Lucia could’ve been the victim of a longer adjustment than expected after playmaking center Vince Hinostroza left the program for professional hockey. Hinostroza centered Lucia for two years. Before that Lucia benefited from a similar center, T.J. Tynan.
But after plenty of searching it appears Jackson has found the right combination to get his most natural goal scorer back on tack. Lucia’s nine goals tie him with DiPauli for second on the team.
Anders Bjork leads the way with 10. Notre Dame has nine players with five goals or more.
“I feel like they’re both fast like Vince and (Tynan) are,” Lucia said. “Hurley is obviously a good passer and good playmaker like they were. Tommy is kinda like me I guess. Gets to the net, likes shooting the puck and is smart. We’ve been kinda working well together. If Tommy doesn’t score one night, I’ve been scoring. It’s been nice. Everyone is being able to contribute every night.”
Boston College makes for elite rivalry
Lucia has turned up the scoring just in time to welcome No. 5 Boston College to the Compton Family Ice Arena for the first time this season.
Notre Dame, which jumped to No. 9 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll this week, rallied from two goals down in the third period for a 4-3 win at Boston College earlier this season. That win came as part of a current 12-game unbeaten streak. The Irish have nine wins and three ties in that stretch, including four straight victories.
Both teams sit on 22 points for second place in the current Hockey East standings. Notre Dame has played 13 league games while Boston College has played 14.
“Obviously, we’re right there with them in the standings,” Jackson said. “So that makes it a little bit more meaningful in some ways. But for us it’s two points on the line and that’s the way we have to approach it.”
Over the years, however, playing Boston College has morphed into more than just another Hockey East series.
These teams have met every season since 2006-07, including Boston College’s 4-1 win over the Irish in the 2008 national championship game. It’s gone from a non-conference rivalry to the familiarity of playing in the same league over the last few years.
In many ways, Boston College has replaced Michigan as the top rival. Michigan dropped off the schedule after both teams left the defunct CCHA.
“I feel like that’s definitely our biggest rival,” Lucia said. “I wouldn’t say there’s like a hatred toward them but it’s definitely a game everyone is excited for and gets up for. Fans are obviously always here and support us. It’s definitely fun for the student body and fun for us.”
Tonight will be the first Top 10 matchup at the Compton Family Ice Arena since Nov. 8-9, 2013 when the Irish split a series against No. 1 Minnesota.
Boston College will look to avenge its December loss to Notre Dame, when it held a 3-1 lead only to see it evaporate.
“Against any good team you have to play with discipline,” Jackson said. “Penalties become a factor. Turnovers become a factor, making bad plays with the puck. And frankly, you’re gonna have to have great goaltending. Hopefully they are too. We’re gonna have to make sure we protect the puck and play well and stay out of the box.”
Petersen wins weekly award
Goalie Cal Petersen won Hockey East defensive player of the week for his efforts in last weekend’s sweep of New Hampshire.
Petersen allowed three goals on 50 shots in the two-game series. He’s now 10-1-2 in Hockey East games this season with a 1.69 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, both good for top five in the conference.