Who: No. 10 Notre Dame (19-8-7) vs. Northeastern (18-13-5)
When: 7:35 p.m. Friday; 7:05 p.m. Saturday; 7:05 p.m. Sunday (if necessary)
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
Spring break doesn’t mean a warm destination for the Notre Dame hockey team.
Instead, the Irish are rounding back into form after a week off for the Hockey East playoffs, which come to the Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend with a quarterfinal series against Northeastern, perhaps the hottest team in the country.
Head coach Jeff Jackson used last week’s bye to heal up bumps and bruises, plus give his goaltender some rest. Now he’s turning up the practice environment.
“Frankly, it’s rest,” Jackson said. “And when you’ve got a goalie that’s played every game all year long, it’s not bad to have additional days off. We practiced every other day last week and have had a full week this week. Still keeping it short this time of the year. The biggest thing is making sure we ramp it up for our game intensity. That’s always my biggest concern on Friday nights.”
Northeastern (18-13-5) is a worry unto itself too.
Since a 2-12-3 stretch in their first 17 games, the Huskies are 16-1-2 over the last 19. They’ve won nine straight, including a pair of overtime games against Maine last weekend in sweeping the first round series.
No. 3 seed Notre Dame (19-8-7) took three points off Northeastern in November with a 3-2 win and 2-2 tie at Compton. That series, however, must seem like eons ago given the Huskies’ recent run.
“When we played them earlier in the year, we were fortunate to come out of that weekend with three points,” Jackson said. “They came from behind the one game. That was one of our games where we had a two-goal lead. They were tough games. We got out-chanced both games against them.”
Not only will Northeastern try to keep marching its way toward the semifinals in this best-of-three series, it wants to improve its position in hopes of making the NCAA tournament. Sitting 19th in the current PairWise rankings, the Huskies likely need to add more quality wins to get into the 16-team field.
The Irish understand the finality that might come with this weekend.
“You’re ending a team’s season,” said winger Thomas DiPauli. “So, obviously there’s that to factor into it. There’s desperation, obviously. I think usually the team that’s willing to give more, that’s willing to sacrifice and not resort to individual play but rather stick to the system even in hard times, that’s usually the team that wins in playoff hockey. I think we’ve actually done a great job this year from Day 1 until now with sticking to the system.”
League improvement traces to program changes
Notre Dame has improved its standing within Hockey East in each of its three seasons.
Initially the Irish finished eighth. Last season they managed fifth place. This year they’re third, which included the first round bye in the playoffs and home ice for the quarterfinals.
Jackson credits acclimation to league opponents and some tweaks in the roster.
“We’ve tried to improve our team speed both on the back end and up front,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried to become more of a transitional team, maybe not as much of a cycle-type team. We still try to cycle and possess the puck but probably we get more chances off transition now than we used to. We still probably generate a lot of chances off the cycle. But it’s just trying to be more of a speed-type team and we’re still in that transition. We not through it yet.”
Notre Dame made the semifinals of the conference tournament in its first season. Last year it bowed out to Massachusetts-Lowell in the quarters.
Here is a rundown of the other quarterfinal matchups this weekend. Winners in the best-of-three series move on to the single elimination semifinals in Boston next week. Seeding in parentheses. The top four seeds all have home ice this weekend.
Boston College (1) vs. Vermont (9)
Providence (2) vs. Merrimack (7)
Notre Dame (3) vs. Northeastern (6)
Lowell (4) vs. Boston University (5)