What happened last weekend?
The Huskies played a couple of very close, hard-fought nonconference games with the Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs. On Friday night, the game was evenly contested until the Huskies got into penalty trouble in the second period. Despite being outshot 41–16, the Huskies played to a tie, 1–1, until the Bulldogs struck with just under three minutes to go. On Saturday night, the Huskies were much better, and despite not scoring until the third period, they skated away with a 1–1 tie.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were less than friendly to former conference mates, the Western Michigan Broncos. The Irish used three third-period goals on Friday to skate away with a 4–0 victory on home ice. On Saturday, things did not go much better for the Broncos at home as the Irish peppered Frank Slubowski with 41 shots en route to a 3–0 win.
What did the Huskies do well?
Dressing three freshmen on the blueline can be stressful even at midseason. However, head coach Mel Pearson is more than happy to gush about his three youngsters and the immediate impact they are having on the game. Chris Leibinger scored his first career goal off a perfect feed from junior Tanner Kero, but it is his play without the puck that has Pearson most excited.
“He’s a good player,” said Pearson. “He competes so hard, you know, he’s a hockey player. He’s a rink rat. He enjoys the game and he plays it the right way.”
The trick with Leibinger, according to Pearson, will be to try to get him to tone down his aggressive style in practice. Injuries to Daniel Sova, Justin Fillion, and Jimmy Davis have left the Huskies with just six defensemen, and the last thing the staff wants to see now is another injury.
“He plays so physical and he’s not a big guy,” said Pearson. “We’re always concerned about that because you can wear yourself down. In practice, he’s got to be careful because he’s just so physical all the time. It’s going to take its toll on your body.”
Sticking with the defensive theme, the Huskies received strong efforts from both Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips. The sophomore duo combined for 60 saves on the weekend and proved that both are ready for primetime action.
“They both played well,” said Pearson. “They are making that decision from weekend to weekend tough on us, which is good. I really liked both of them.”
Saturday night’s result was especially promising because of the relative calm Phillips showed between the pipes. For a player who did not make his first start until Dec. 4 of last season and would not start again until Mar. 2, Phillips showed that he was ready to challenge Copley for the top spot immediately.
“He’s been one of our most improved players from last year,” said Pearson. “I think Saturday was just an indication of where he is at. I am confident to put him in net. He’s brought his game a long way.”
What do the Huskies still need to work on?
The biggest issue plaguing the Huskies at this point is their lackluster power play, which went 0-for-11 against the Bulldogs. Add in their 0-for-5 run against Laurentian, and the Huskies are an abysmal 0-for-16 to start the 2013–14 season.
The Huskies looked confused at times last weekend, holding on to the puck too long, making poor passing choices, and not firing shots on goal. Some of the blame could be on the shoulders of sophomore Walker Hyland, who is trying to fill the void left by the graduation of Steven Seigo, but he is not the only one struggling.
“I thought Walker Hyland struggled a little bit on the power play on the weekend,” said Pearson. “If he has a tough night, then everything seems to shift down. But, we just were too deliberate with the puck. Everybody was just holding on to it.”
The second issue the Huskies have to shore up is the number of penalties taken. Last weekend, the Huskies took several penalties which are often labeled as “selfish”. Pearson’s staff has already gone to task with the team about those types of penalties, as the Irish will most likely make them pay for those kinds of mistakes.
The inside scoop: a look at the Fighting Irish
The Irish won the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament last season and appear poised to give Hockey East a run for its money this season. The Irish sport a roster that includes 14 upperclassmen, and all that experience should pay off for head coach Jeff Jackson’s squad.
“Their depth is the first thing you notice,” said Pearson. “They are very experienced and they know how to win.”
Captain Jeff Costello enters his senior year looking to build off his 11-goal, 30-point campaign last season. Classmate T.J. Tynan will be playing his final season without fellow standout Anders Lee, who jumped to the NHL’s New York Islanders, but he has scored 124 points in 126 career games, proving that he is always dangerous.
“We’re going to be playing against a championship team that won its playoff championship last year,” said Pearson. “A lot of these guys have Frozen Four experience from few years ago, so it’s going to be another challenge.”
The trick to defeating a team like the Irish is to control the neutral zone and take away their dangerous transition game. How do you do that? You do that by limiting turnovers, taking care of the puck, making sure you get it behind them, and make sure you get it out of your zone first.
Game times will be 7:35 p.m. Friday night and 2:05 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.