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Early failure a harbinger of long-term success for Irish

by James Murphy
While Jeff Jackson and his players may have not liked it at the time, losing three of the first five games this season may have been a blessing in disguise for Notre Dame, a 2008 Frozen Four finalist.

Since the stumble, the Fighting Irish are 16-0-2 since an Oct. 25 loss to No. 9 Miami and enter a two-game set with Lake Superior State this weekend with an eight-game winning streak.

"I think we had a bit of a wake-up call early in the season," Jackson said. "We made it to the final game last year, felt good early about ourselves to start the season and had a wake-up call when we lost to Denver (in the first game) and then the two to Miami of Ohio. Those are high-caliber teams and we haven't played any top 20 teams, with exception of Alaska this weekend and BC. We have not played top teams that would justify us getting too happy with ourselves."

Notre Dame won the Boston College game that Jackson mentioned, earning its first win over a Top 10 team this season. The Irish look at that game as a turning point that sent them on their current roll.

"It was good to get that win," said goaltender Jordan Pearce who is having a lights-out season with a 17-3-2 record, 1.47 goals-against average and .940 save-percentage. "We had the three losses and we were focused on getting a Top 10 win and getting that confidence back. We were maybe a bit too stuck on last season and now it wasn't about last year. We let that die and focused on this season. The win got us going, gave us a jump-start and put us over the top. We knew then that this could be a good season."

Captain Erik Condra, a senior forwards who has 20 points this season, agreed.

"We lost to Denver and Miami and looked back to see what was going on," Condra said. "We got back to basics. Everyone was pushing too hard from the last year's season. We got back to our style of hockey -- 'Irish hockey' -- and ever since then we haven't let down at all."

Last season, the Irish had a similar streak, but then barely made it into the NCAA tournament after an average second half. As this season's second half gets under way, Notre Dame is focused on avoiding another potential freefall.

"What has happened in the last couple of years can hopefully help us now," Jackson said. "Our leadership core and upperclassmen have been through a couple of scenarios over the last couple years and that experience has hopefully helped us be ready for anything.

"Last season after coming back from Christmas break, we struggled heavily and we were very fortunate for being able to enter the tournament, which then gave us an opportunity to get to the final game. We know what it takes to stay focused and stay on the right track."

Condra agreed.

"I think what happened last year we learned a lot from it," Condra said. "We had a 13-game winning streak and let a lot of the little things slip. But we have a veteran team this year and they have stepped up to not let the little things slip again. They've helped us compete every night. Our goalie, Jordan Pearce, is making those big saves when we need them and we are getting offense from everywhere -- all four lines -- which is a big thing for us."

Pearce believes in his team's work ethic and ability to stay within the game plan. The senior goalie is not so much concerned with the current winning streak, but rather positioning the team to go on a streak when it counts, in the CCHA and NCAA tournaments.

"The key is our work ethic and attention to detail primarily during the week and leading up to our games," Pearce said. "After the break, we came back competing hard during practice, a lot of hits, lots of anger, and by working hard, we're not getting complacent with the winning streak. We don't focus on the winning streak, because it's more important to focus on the standings and trying to win home ice during the playoffs."

As the Irish begin the grind to Washington D.C., they will lean on Pearce to continue his dominance, but also learn from their lessons of last season because they know the likelihood of just making the tournament and then repeating their 2008 run, is slim to none.

"Losing last year, we all realize we were that close to being NCAA champs," Pearce said. "We know it was in our reach so now we know that we can get there, we should be there and we need to do to get there again. But we know we can't do it the way we did last season and expect to be there. We need to stay focused on a daily basis, not look too far ahead and play our game."

On Campus Clips -- Ohio State cracked the Top 10 this week in the midst of a 10-game winning streak, currently the nation's longest. It is the team's longest winning streak since taking 13 in a row Oct. 7-Nov. 19, 1983. The Buckeyes swept Bowling Green last weekend for their first road sweep since winning two games at Bowling Green on Nov. 17-18, 2006. Ohio State will play a two-game set at Ferris State this weekend. … North Dakota senior forward Ryan Duncan and University of Wisconsin junior defenseman Jamie McBain, were named WCHA co-Offensive Players of the Week. Duncan, the 2007 Hobey Baker Award winner scored 3 goals, including a game-winner, and fired nine shots on goal to help propel the host Fighting Sioux to a two-game WCHA sweep of then No. 3-ranked Minnesota last weekend in Grand Forks. McBain who is the nation's top scoring defenseman this season with 28 points, led the visiting Badgers to a two-game, 3-2 and 6-3, conference sweep at Alaska Anchorage last weekend with a two-goal, two assist weekend. … No. 7 Vermont (12-4-3, 7-3-2 HEA) and No. 3 Northeastern (14-4-2, 10-2-1 HEA) will square off in a huge two-game set on Friday and Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston. These games have huge implications not only in the Hockey East where Northeastern leads Vermont by five points but also nationally where Vermont actually leads Northeastern by two points and is ranked third overall. The Huskies won the teams' first meeting 5-3 at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vermont on Nov. 14. … According to Fox News 9 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia is still waiting for a final diagnosis on the illness that has kept him out of the Gophers' last four games. Doctors have ruled out cancer and some other ailments. Lucia told Fox News 9 that more tests were planned for Wednesday, and he hopes to hold a news conference Thursday to discuss the results. Lucia says that since he became ill Dec. 27, he's seen undergone CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, a spinal tap and other tests with several doctors. "Obviously everyone is concerned about him, and hopes he's doing better, but it's like that any time one of our players is sick or injured. You are always hoping for a speedy recovery and they're back soon and we wish that for him too," Gophers spokesperson Jim Strick said. Lucia is 50 and in his 10th season coaching the Gophers. He said he plans to be behind the Minnesota bench when the No. 8 Gophers play St. Cloud State on Friday at Mariucci Arena and on Saturday in St. Cloud. Our best wishes at go out to Lucia, his family and the Gophers team and University of Minnesota community.

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