For the Fighting Irish, a one-goal performance was a familiar narrative that they would have preferred to tell in past tense.
At the end of the first half of the season, Notre Dame was averaging 3.50 goals per game; going into their 4-1 title game loss to Boston College, the Irish were averaging 2.93.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “Confidence is a huge factor. They go in highs and lows.”
In its last 10 games, Notre Dame has four losses in which the team mustered just one goal, including the back-to-back CCHA championship tournament 2-1 losses that had the Irish wondering whether or not they would even make the NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame’s first-half record was 17-5-0; from Jan. 4 through the West Regional, the Irish were 9-10-4, with eight games in which they netted one goal and one shutout loss to Western Michigan, a team that gave up over three goals per game on average.
But in their first three NCAA tournament games this year, the Irish netted 15 goals, a healthy turnaround from their second half and a trend that Jackson would have liked to have seen continue.
“I think we could have been better tonight, just from our decision making, our puck-movement perspective,” said Jackson after the loss.
Notre Dame had one of the top defensive teams in the country all season and while Jackson stresses the defensive end of the game, he also wants to see the Irish play the more offensive style of hockey that is more likely to guarantee return trips to the Frozen Four.
“We’re trying to emulate some of these teams like Boston College and Michigan,” said Jackson. “We want to play an up-tempo style. We’re a good defensive team, and we will always be a good defensive team as long as I’m coaching, but I always believe that offense comes from defense. Other people look at it differently.”
It’s that “puck movement,” as Jackson put it, that was lacking in tonight’s game for Notre Dame.
“To possess the puck is the best defense of all,” Jackson said Friday. “If you can cycle the puck, if you can control the puck through the neutral zone — in NHL-Ken Hitchcock terminology now is ‘puck management.’ You want to manage the puck out of your zone through the neutral zone, and you want to control it in the offensive zone because that’s the best defense of all. You try to combine that with a good defensive game, so you can try to establish offense from either your cycle or your transitional game.”
Irish sophomore defenseman Kyle Lawson said that Notre Dame might have been a little dazzled by playing a team making its third consecutive bid for a national title, and because of that came out a little too cautiously tonight.
“I mentioned yesterday that we were the new kids on the block … but your hindsight is always going to be 20-20,” said Lawson.
The Irish were anything but cautious in their 5-4 overtime win over Michigan, a familiar foe from the CCHA. It was Notre Dame’s relentless pursuit of the puck and domination in the Wolverine end in OT that led to ND’s eight shots on goal to Michigan’s four — and a semifinal victory.
The Irish’s play against the Eagles, however, was another story. “I thought we were a little bit on our heels,” said Jackson. “I was a little concerned about going into this situation for the first time ever for a lot of these kids.
“There were some signs of playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win. I’ve always preached that we want to always play to win. We don’t want to play too cautiously. We want to play smart, but we don’t want to play too cautiously.”