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No. 2 Notre Dame comes to town to face Falcons

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Mike Sullivan, defensmen, focuses on getting down the ice to continue the attack.

Following one of its most successful weekends of the season, the BG hockey team will face one of its toughest opponents of the season this weekend, as No. 2 Notre Dame comes to town.

There will only be one game played this weekend — Saturday at 7:05 p.m. — due to an academic function at Notre Dame, BG coach Chris Bergeron said. The Irish will make a return trip to Bowling Green on Jan. 15 to make up that second game.

The Irish have been one of the premiere teams in the nation so far this season. Overall, they are 13-4 — including a 9-1 mark in Central Collegiate Hockey Association play. Among CCHA teams, the Irish are No. 1 in scoring offense (3.18 goals per game) and scoring defense (1.65 goals allowed per game).

“Their depth is basically showing itself,” Bergeron said. “I think everybody last year knew that team, on paper, was better than their results. Last year, they were missing something intangibly. Whatever that something was, they have it now.”

Despite losing two of their leading scorers from this past season in Billy Maday (27 points) and Riley Sheahan (25 points), the Irish have not missed a beat offensively. Part of that is due to outstanding scoring depth.

Only freshman forward Mario Lucia is averaging one point per game; he has played in only eight of the team’s 17 games but has eight points. Five players — four forwards and one defenseman — have 12 or more points.

Anders Lee’s 11 goals and 16 points are both team-highs.

“You have to be aware when their big guys are on the ice,” said BG forward Mark Cooper. “They have some pure scorers. If we can manage that and match their work ethic we’ll definitely compete with them.”

The biggest improvement for the Irish this season has been defensively, primarily in goal.

In 2011-12, Notre Dame goalies Steven Summerhays, Mike Johnson and Joe Rogers combined for a respectable 2.62 goals-against average. However, the Irish had a minus-six goal differential.

So far this season, Summerhays and Johnson have combined for a 1.65 GAA, and the Irish have a plus-26 goal differential through 17 games.

Summerhays has been the driving force behind that. In 16 games — 15 starts — he has a 1.56 GAA and a .937 save percent, to go along with a 11-4 record.

“The goaltending issue that everyone’s said they’ve had, Summerhays has seemed to put that to bed,” Bergeron said.

On the BG side, the Falcons are riding a bit of momentum, thanks to a four-point weekend against Alaska. In the weekend series, the Falcons scored three goals in back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“It was nice to see guys step up,” Bergeron said. “To see what we did … it looked like our guys were not going to be denied.”

The win and shoot-out loss ensured that the team did not waste two outstanding performances by goalie Andrew Hammond, who stopped 80 of 85 shots on the weekend.

His most remarkable sequence came in the third period of Friday’s game, when he stopped 21 of 22 shots in the period.

“The way he played in the third period Friday, he [looked like] an All American; he made five or six saves that he probably had no business making,” Bergeron said. “Then the first puck on goal Saturday hit him in the glove, dropped and went into the net. I thought he was very good, but there are still some pucks he would like to have back.”

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