Hockey: Center Cam Burke doing some of his best work on the road for Irish skaters
SOUTH BEND — Senior center Cam Burke is anxious to become a Road Warrior once again with the No 13 Notre Dame hockey team.
He hopes his teammates will be, too. Because when coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish hunker down in their road bunker, they are pretty darn tough to beat.
Just ask the Michigan Wolverines, who were atop of the college hockey world when they welcomed Notre Dame into Yost Ice Arena on Nov. 19 and 20. Mel Pearson’s team, its roster full of NHL Draft talent, had 2-0 leads both nights, but the Irish rallied to win both in overtime, 3-2 and 5-4.
Notre Dame (13-6-0 overall, 6-4-0 Big Ten for 17 points and fourth place) hasn’t been on the road since. But after splitting three series at home, the Irish will find out a lot about themselves beginning with the first of two back-to-back road series this weekend at Penn State (12-8-0 overall, 3-7-0 Big Ten for 8 points and seventh place). Faceoffs at the usually raucous Pegula Ice Arena in “Hockey Valley” are 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
“Beating Michigan twice on the road was really an important step for us,” Burke said. “We’ve had success at Penn State, and I think it’s because how rowdy that environment can get. We actually use that as extra energy for ourselves, extra motivation. When the opposing team’s fans are right on the glass and loud, trying to chirp at you a little bit, it gives you extra motivation.”
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Burke, whose father Garrett played collegiately at UMass Lowell and who followed brother Cal from their Boxborough, Massachusetts, home to South Bend, is enjoying his best season at Notre Dane. In 19 games, Burke already has season highs for goals (six), assists (six) and points (12), has scored the game-winning goal three times and is 166-101 in faceoffs.
“Cam didn’t get to play a lot for us last season, and it was tough on him,” Jackson said. A dislocated and broken thumb ended Burke’s season just as it appeared to be taking off after he scored a goal and had two assists in an 8-1 victory last Feb. 6 at Ohio State, where the Irish pay a visit next weekend.
During his career with Notre Dame, Burke has usually been at his best when the Irish have been at — on the road, that is. Earlier this season, he scored both goals, the second in overtime, as Notre Dame beat Michigan Tech 2-1 at Houghton, Michigan.
In his freshman campaign in 2018-19, Burke scored four goals, one the game-winner in Notre Dame’s 3-1 victory at Michigan State. As a sophomore, he scored a goal in a 5-4 Irish victory at Wisconsin and scored the shootout-winner as the Irish earned an extra point in a 3-3 tie at Penn State.
This season, Burke has scored four of his six goals at home, and two of them came last Sunday after Jackson reminded his forwards that they had gone scoreless for 196 minutes and 33 seconds.
“A little jab at your pride — sometimes you need that to get you going,” Burke said. With help from linemates Grant Silianoff and Ryder Rolston, Burke got the Irish started with a goal at 19:20 of the first period. He then added a shorthanded, breakaway tally off a feed from goalie Ryan Bischel in the second period as the Irish powered their way to a 5-0 victory over Niagara that took some of the sting away from a 3-1 loss on New Year’s Day.
“Cam has been a positive for us this season,” Jackson said. Indeed, Burke, who has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors his two previous seasons while working toward his double major in Finance and Film, Television and Theatre, came to play.
“I wanted to give it my absolute all because this is my senior year,” Burke said. “Recognizing this is my fourth year here and I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve as a team and personally, it was a huge motivating factor for me.”
This Road Warrior’s ultimate road trip? Ending the season playing for a national title 30 miles from his Massachusetts home at Boston’s TD Garden, the site of this year’s Frozen Four.