Nov. 24, 2010

By Jen Gunnels

For most college hockey teams, theres no rest for the weary this weekend. While some will be enjoying a Thanksgiving break, many hockey teams around the country will be returning to the ice on Friday for weekend series and holiday tournaments. One of the weekends most notable series will pit this weeks USA TODAY/USA Hockey No. 10 North Dakota against No. 11 Notre Dame in a nonconference matchup at the Subway Holiday Classic in Grand Forks.

At 9-3-1 overall, the Fighting Irish are coming off of a home sweep over Michigan State and currently sit atop CCHA standings with a 7-2-1 conference record. After losing 13 men from last years roster, the Irish were ranked fifth in the CCHA preseason coaches and media polls. With 11 freshmen who would be relied upon to fill key holes in the roster, question marks loomed over the squad as the season began.

Ive been surprised and pleased with the impact our freshmen have had on our team,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. We have 11 freshmen and nine or 10 are on the lineup almost every night. Without question they have made a significant impact and I think thats the most encouraging thing.”

Senior forwards Ryan Guentzel and Ben Ryan are joined by freshman T.J. Tynan in leading the team offensively so far this season. Each has tallied 16 points, and freshman Anders Lee leads the team with nine goals. Jackson is quick to also note the contributions of freshmen defensemen Jared Beers, Stephen Johns, Kevin Lind and Shayne Taker.

We have three, sometimes four freshmen defensemen that are playing almost every night,” Jackson said. Those guys dont get a lot of ink, but theyve had an incredible impact on our team. I dont want to underestimate the role of our older guys, particularly our seniors, in making our freshmen feel comfortable and creating an environment that has made it possible for them to contribute in the way that they have.”

The Irish are traveling to North Dakota for the first time since January 1999, although the teams met as recently as January 3. The Fighting Sioux have enjoyed a 10-1-2 advantage in the previous 13 meetings between the teams. At 8-5-1 overall, the Fighting Sioux are entering their sixth consecutive weekend series against a top-15 team.

Certainly they are one of the top teams in the country and were going to have our hands full matching their defensive depth and physicality,” Jackson said. Fortunately we had a series earlier this season against Michigan at Yost Arena, which is another tough place to go in and play, so that was a good experience for the team and gave the guys some action under fire. Opponents like this help us to be a better team and it benefits us down the road. These are the types of games that will hopefully propel us as we move into the second half of the season.”

Another holiday tournament to watch will be the College Hockey Showcase featuring Big Ten schools No. 8 Michigan, No. 15 Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Friday will feature Michigan at Wisconsin and Michigan State at Minnesota. Michigan State will travel to take on Wisconsin on Saturday and Michigan will travel to Minnesota on Sunday. Michigan has enjoyed the most success at the College Hockey Showcase, winning 20 games since the tournaments debut in 1993. The Wolverines enter this years Showcase on a three-game winning streak following a sweep of Lake Superior State last weekend. Minnesota also enters on a winning streak having swept Michigan Tech last weekend, while Wisconsin has struggled in recent weeks and is winless in its last five contests.

Elsewhere, No. 13 Denver will host the Denver Cup Classic featuring visiting Lake Superior State, Air Force and Clarkson. Currently sitting at second place in WCHA rankings, the hosting Pioneers will be seeking their 15th Denver Cup Classic title and looking to extend a season-best four-game winning streak. Denver freshman goaltender Sam Brittain currently leads the WCHA in save percentage at .934 and was recently named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.

Other ranked teams taking the ice this weekend include No. 14 Alaska at Ohio State and No. 5 Miami at Western Michigan in a pair of CCHA weekend series. The No. 7 Boston College Eagles will engage in Hockey East conference clashes with Merrimack and Vermont, and No. 6 New Hampshire will return to the ice on Saturday for a single conference contest against Merrimack.

Tuesday Night Notables

Several teams met last night for mid-week contests before the start of the holiday weekend. No. 3 Yale hosted Sacred Heart for a nonconference matchup, skating to a 5-1 win in the only contest between the two teams this season. Junior forward Chad Ziegler netted a career-high two goals while senior forwards Broc Little and Denny Kearney tallied three points each. ECAC Hockey has a new leader after Princetons 3-0 shutout win over conference opponent Quinnipiac last night. The win was Princetons fifth conference victory of the season and freshman goalie Sean Bonars first career shutout. The Tigers netted two goals on four power play chances while killing off six penalties.

In another notable Tuesday night matchup, No. 6 New Hampshire skated to a 5-5 overtime tie with the visiting Brown Bears. The Wildcats were trailing by two goals with just two minutes remaining in regulation when junior defenseman Blake Kessel and junior forward Mike Borisenok potted a pair of goals 11 seconds apart to send the game into overtime. New Hampshire senior forward Mike Sislo tallied a pair of goals on his way to a four-point night and now leads the team with seven goals on the season. With the tie, the Wildcats remain undefeated at home in five games so far this season.