Who: Notre Dame (17-9-4) vs. No. 10 Providence (18-8-4)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
TV: NBCSN (Friday only)
Bobby Nardella returning to the lineup helped breathe life into the Notre Dame power play.
After six games out with a lower body injury, Nardella jumped back into the defensive pairings for last week’s trip to Maine. He assisted on both power-play goals the Irish scored Saturday while rallying for a 4-2 win and series sweep.
“Saturday night he looked like the old Nardella,” said head coach Jeff Jackson, “which was really important. I thought he was really good. We still didn’t give him the same number of minutes that we normally did before he got hurt. We didn’t play him on the penalty kill and he was doing a pretty good job of that before he got hurt.
“As time goes on, we’ll rotate him in. But I think he’s back to full speed.”
Nardella remains an important piece to the Notre Dame scoring machine. He’s second on the team among defensemen with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) while quarterbacking one of the power play units.
While important, scoring isn’t an area Jackson asked Nardella to focus his efforts this season. It’s his defensive play that’s made him more indispensable.
Nardella proved prolific offensively last season as a freshman, scoring four goals and picking up 20 assists while playing 35 games. Hockey East named him to its All-Rookie team as a result.
But Jackson impressed upon the 5-foot-9, 175-pound defensemen the need to be more responsible in his own end. Nardella took the challenge to heart.
“They were telling me they want me to make plays offensively but they want me to excel in the defensive area because that’s what it’s gonna take to move on in my hockey career,” Nardella said. “I really took pride in playing on the other side of the puck this year and I’ve done pretty well so far. There’s a little break I guess but I’m still looking to keep going on the defensive end.”
Still, Nardella’s creativity and ability to get shots through defenders is a welcome sight to a Notre Dame power play that went 2-for-21 in his absence. After going 0-for-4 with the man advantage in the first game against Maine, Nardella’s influence showed back up.
He professed no magic touch.
“Just talk more,” Nardella said. “Keep it simple, I guess. We’ve got a lot of skilled players that can do a lot of good things but sometimes it’s easy to overcomplicate it and overpass. Just reminding everyone it doesn’t need to be pretty to go into the net. It’s just get pucks to the net and get bodies to the net.”
Streaking Providence comes to town
Nardella and crew welcome No. 10 Providence this weekend for a critical Hockey East series in the last regular season home games of the season.
Providence (18-8-4, 10-6-2 Hockey East) has won nine straight and 10 of its last 11, vaulting into fifth place in the league standings with 22 points. Notre Dame (17-9-4, 10-5-3 Hockey East) sits in a tie for third with UMass-Lowell on 23 points.
“We’re both jockeying for the same positioning,” Jackson said. “It’ll be a tough, physical, grindy series. There’s no question about it. But it should make for some good hockey though, I would think.”
Boston College remains atop Hockey East with 27 points while Boston University is in second with 24. The top four teams in the standings get a bye through the first round of the league playoffs.