The University of Notre Dame Hockey team will visit Merrimack's Lawler Rink for the first time since 1991, but for the first time ever as a member of Hockey East. It is an interesting matchup of two conflicting styles that could provide for two very interesting games in Merrimack's cozy confines.
As Providence coach Nate Leaman said after his team's 1-0 loss at Merrimack last weekend, and as countless other coaches have said over the years, Merrimack is a tough place to play. The fans are right on top of the action and for whatever reason, the pace of play just seems to be that much faster at Lawler Rink.
Whether Notre Dame can adjust to that is still to be determined, but the small rink could fit well into Notre Dame's system of puck possession and dictating the pace of play. The 5-4-1 Irish will look to get back on track after a lost weekend at No. 1 Minnesota. Jeff Jackson's team was swept at Mariucci in rather convincing fashion, 5-0 and 4-2.
Notre Dame is a very talented team that focuses on puck possession and in general does a very good job of limiting opposing teams' chances. Jeff Jackson's team has 10 NHL Draft picks dotting the lineup including Mario Lucia and Robbie Russo.
Lucia might be one of the most pro-ready players in college hockey. The son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, Mario is a second round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2011 NHL Draft. He was held scoreless in both games last weekend, The six-foot-three Lucia is very physical and has a deadly shot from the mid to high slot.
Also up front, sophomore Vince Hinostroza is another extremely talented play maker while juniors Steven Fogarty and Thomas DiPauli have made huge strides from their sophomore campaigns.
Russo is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman who returned to the Irish lineup this fall after missing the second half of last season due to academic issues. A New York Islanders prospect, he was +12 through eight games heading into last weekend, but went -2 in Minneapolis.
Jackson and his staff brought in another tremendous class headlined by Montreal pick Jake Evans and Buffalo prospect Connor Hurley up front and Jordan Gross on the blue line. Freshman goaltender Cal Petersen, another Buffalo pick, was terrific before a couple rough outings last weekend.
It will be interesting to see if Jackson gives sophomore Chad Katunar a start, possibly Friday, after indicating following Sunday's game that Petersen isn't the guaranteed starter.
It's early in the season, but Merrimack has a significant edge on Notre Dame in the special teams department. The Warriors are ranked in the top three in both power play and penalty kill while the Irish rank in the bottom four of Hockey East in each category. Merrimack is +5 net on special teams while Notre Dame is -3.
Helping Merrimack's special teams has been a mix of returnees stepping up their games as well as a talented freshman class adding some creativity. Junior Brian Christie and sophomore Hampus Gustafsson have brought a good deal of size and strength to the first line while rookie Brett Seney has led an all-freshman line with classmates Jace Hennig and Matthieu Tibbet.
However, this will be the toughest test yet for Merrimack's penalty kill. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors respond, but it will have the benefit of playing in front of the home crowd at Lawler Rink.
Key to the Series
The Lawler Rink crowd will be raring to get behind the home team with a big-name opponent in town for the first time in over two decades. Merrimack is 4-0 when scoring first. The Warriors need to establish the intensity and aggressive forechecking from the get-go and if it does, there is a good chance Dennehy's team can pick up two or more points on the weekend.
Dennehy talks a lot about what players can do that impact the game, but don't make the score sheet. Players like Kyle Singleton, Quinn Gould and Clayton Jardine can have a big impact on this series if they play their game, disrupt ND's style and establish the forecheck early on in the series.
Series Breakdown by the Numbers
|Notre Dame (5-4-1, 1-0-1 HE)||Merrimack (6-2-1, 2-1-0 HE)|
|Head Coach||Jeff Jackson||Mark Dennehy|
|All-Time Series Record||4-3-1||3-4-1|
|Home/Away Record||0-2-0 (Away)||3-0-0 (Home)|
|Goals Per Game||3.20 (4th)||2.78 (8th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.60 (6th)||1.89 (3rd)|
|Power Play Percentage||9.3% (10th)||16.0% (3rd)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||80.0% (9th)||92.7% (2nd)|
|Leading Scorer (Points)||Lucia, Russo (10)||Brian Christie (9)|
|Leading Goal Scorer||Mario Lucia (8)||Christie, Seney (4)|
|Assists Leader||DiPauli, Russo, Hinostroza (6)||Hampus Gustafsson (6)|
|Top +/-||Robbie Russo (+10)||Gustafsson, Hennig (+5)|
|Most Penalties||Mario Lucia (5/10)||Jonathan Lashyn (6/12)|
|Projected Starting Goalie||Chad Katunar (2.77/.907)||Rasmus Tirronen (1.73/.928)|
|NHL Draft Picks||10||1|
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on @JeffCoxSports.