HOCKEY: Irish keeping playoff hopes alive this weekend
By JUSTIN SCHUVER
Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Irish hope to return to something more than books and tests when spring break nears its end.
They hope to return home for a playoff game.
With a good showing against Northern Michigan on the road this weekend, that hope could change into a reality.
Currently, the Irish sit tied for fifth place in the CCHA along with three other teams, one of which is Northern Michigan.
If the Irish (14-14-6, 12-11-3 CCHA) can collect at least three points against the Wildcats, they will be in a good position to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs. The top six finishers in the league receive home ice.
A month ago, an Irish bid for home ice appeared almost impossible, with Notre Dame, at one point, standing as low as ninth place in the 12-team conference. Since the start of February, a surge has seen the Irish win five of their last seven and has put the team in position to earn the home ice advantage.
Last weekend, the Irish split a home-and-home series with Western Michigan, in which the home team won each contest. The Broncos defeated the Irish 4-2 on Friday in Kalamazoo, but the Irish responded with a 5-2 win Saturday at the Joyce Center.
In Saturday's game, on Senior Night, senior goaltender Tony Zasowski and freshman Matt Amado were the heroes. Zasowski, making *just his fifth start of the season, stopped 25 of 27 shots, and Amado scored the eventual game-winning goal.
The other seniors aided the team in its victory as well. Evan Nielsen assisted on Amado's goal, Connor Dunlop and John Wroblewski scored the insurance goals, Michael Chin assisted on Dunlop's goal and Jake Wiegand started his first game at defense for the first time in his Irish career.
The seniors and the rest of the Irish are in for a tough test when they travel to Marquette, Mich., to take on the Wildcats (17-15-2, 13-12-1 CCHA). The Wildcats are coming off last weekend having achieved a split against Ohio State in Marquette.
Following an impressive 5-2 win over the Buckeyes on Friday, the Wildcats lost by a score of 4-1 the following Saturday.
A pair of talented senior forwards lead Northern Michigan offensively. Chris Gobart leads the team with 37 points, including 10 goals, while Mike Stutzel is right behind with 36 points and an impressive 23 goals, good enough for third in the CCHA.
The Wildcats are led in net by junior Craig Kowalski, who holds a respectable 2.77 GAA for the season. Kowalski usually doesn't have to work too hard, as he plays behind a defense that only gives up an average of 27.2 shots a game. By contrast, the Irish give up an average of 33.7 shots a game.
If there's a strength for the Wildcats, it's their special teams. They are ranked in the top five in the CCHA in both power play and penalty kill percentage, and have yet to give up a shorthanded goal while scoring three of their own.
Contact Justin Schuver at email@example.com
All Sports Stories for Friday, March 7, 2003