COMMENTARY

Notre Dame hockey: Intensity, patience key to Jackson's plan

SOUTH BEND -- Success, the way Jeff Jackson diagrams it, is more process than concept.

It doesn’t just happen in the Notre Dame hockey program.

The Irish coach doesn’t like to talk in vague generalities. He and his players deal in tangibles, like they did Saturday night in a 4-3 win over Bowling Green.

That victory, which earned the second-seeded Irish a ticket to next weekend’s CCHA Tournament finals, was just the second step in an easily-understood recipe for postseason success.

  • Play well enough during the regular season to get a first-round bye: Done.
  • Play well enough in the  second round to get to “The Joe”: Done
  • Get hot and win those two elimination games at Joe Louis Arena: That’s next week.
  • Catch lightning in a bottle and win the national title: Uhhhhh ...

Patience is a big part of Jackson’s process. Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.

Intensity is never allowed to take a shift off. Pressure is a constant. The score is meaningless: Go hard, never let up.

Saturday night’s victory shut the door on a stubborn Bowling Green team comfortable with the pressure of the postseason.

The Falcons didn’t let the hurt from a heart-breaking sudden death loss Friday spoil their bid for redemption Saturday. Even an early 2-0 deficit didn’t funnel any fight.

The Irish win was another significant step in Jackson’s process.

Notre Dame negotiated the valleys this season better than a year ago. Maybe that’s why the process has a pretty good chance to work this time.

Last year, the Irish went into a funk and couldn’t recover. Starting Jan. 13, they lost 10 of their final 14 games, then were bounced in the second round of the CCHA Tourney.

This year, a January slump put Notre Dame in a rut. The Irish were 2-6 in that miserable month. They started February with a loss and a tie at Ohio State, then went on a 7-1-2 tear that sends them to Detroit.

What happened? Why such a difference?

A nucleus of 12 juniors is finally coming of age. Poise has replaced panic. Maturity has eliminated mayhem.

“Leadership” is what Jackson sees as the primary difference. “Last year, when you have adversity, some guys check out. They don’t respond to it. That didn’t happen this year.

“I never felt there was any discomfort in the locker room during (January). I never felt guys complaining about their roles. I never sensed that there was anybody that was dissatisfied or a negative aspect in the locker room.

“The chemistry of the team kept everything in a positive frame of mind and allowed us, as coaches, to keep moving ahead instead of having to worry about patching holes in the dike.”

“Mostly, (the difference) is maturity,” said Irish junior goalie Steven Summerhays. “We learned from last year. It was like we were learning the same lesson twice this year, but the result is different. We stayed positive. Nobody got down.

“(Last year), we went from panic one week, to just trying to be loose. It was like we were in limbo. This year, we played through it. We knew it would work itself out if we kept working hard.”

“We’ve got a good group of juniors and seniors,” said Jackson. “They’ve helped lead this team. The size of the junior class just dominates this team, but they are not bigger than the team. They respect the seniors. That’s a big reason why they’re close.”

Jackson pointed to Bryan Rust, who scored three goals in the series with Bowling Green, as a face of that transformation.

“There’s no question that, (in terms of attitude), he’s a different player (than last year),” Jackson said. “That allowed him to become a really great college player. Last year he was frustrated and not real happy with his role. He and I had it out at the end of the year. He came back in great shape with the right mindset.”

With 29 saves Saturday and a shutout Friday, Summerhays has done his part toward making the process work.

“It is a process, learning from those experiences,” Summerhays said. “We’re still growing. If we learn from our mistakes, next weekend should be pretty successful.”

Jackson’s process says it should.
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