Hockey: Karashik’s blocks speaking volumes for No. 8 Notre Dame

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame's Adam Karashik (3) looks to shoot during the Notre Dame vs. RIT NCAA hockey game Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND – Adam Karashik has been around the hockey block a couple of times while making his share of blocks.

Now the 6-foot, 205-pound defenseman is making them for Notre Dame and is one big reason why coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish hope to make a long postseason run in the coming weeks.

After a junior hockey career in Chicago and four years playing collegiately for home-state Connecticut in the Hockey East Association, Karashik has become the defensive rock the No. 8 Irish have needed while fashioning a 23-9 overall record and a 15-7 mark in the Big Ten Conference for fourth place with 41 points, one behind idle Ohio State. 

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“Adam lays it on the line every time he plays,” said Jackson, whose team welcomes high-scoring No. 2 Michigan (25-7-1, 16-6 Big Ten for 51 points and first place) Friday and Saturday nights to close out the regular season at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

“(Adam) has brought a defensive posture to our team as well as the physical aspect,” added Jackson, who saw enough of the graduate transfer’s leadership skills during the summer to make Karashik a captain along with returning centers Jake Pivonka and Graham Slaggert. “Sometimes that becomes contagious. It helps the other guys to recognize that if we play the right way, if we play with that commitment level, it allows our team to have success. Adam is all about team success.”

Karashik’s adds ranked NCAA talent to Notre Dame roster

In Karashik’s world, stopping shots from getting to the Irish net is as important as putting them in the oppositions’ goals. On a team that features the Top-10 goaltending talents of graduate transfer (from Cornell) Matthew Galajda and junior returnee Ryan Bischel, Karashik has prevented another 72 shots from reaching the goal creases and nets they protect. Karashik’s total is No. 1 in the Big Ten and tied for fifth nationally.

Notre Dame's Adam Karashik (3) during an NCAA hockey game against RIT on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Last Saturday, Karashik blocked five shots in Notre Dame’s 4-2 victory at Michigan State. It’s the fifth time he has made five or more blocks in a game – each an Irish victory.

Karashik learned the importance of blocking shots when he played junior hockey for the USHL’s Chicago Steel before entering UConn as a freshman for the 2017-18 season.

“I started embracing that when I played in Chicago for (coach) Dan Muse,” Karashik said. “He told me if I wanted to keep moving up the ladder, I needed to embrace the defensive side of the game, the physicality (of the game) and blocking shots. Those are strengths of mine.”

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 At Connecticut, Karashik blocked 180 shots in 119 career games, but the Huskies won just 52 times against the powerhouses of Hockey East. Nevertheless, his toughness impressed his coaches and teammates. They made Karashik an alternate captain his junior year and captain as a senior. But the opportunities to pursue a pro career after graduation weren’t what Karashik desired.

UVM's Johnny Deroche fights Uconn's Adam Karashik for the puck during their hockey game Friday night, Nov. 2, 2018, at home. The Huskies pulled out a win, 1-0. 

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“It was evident to me after last season that the situation I was looking forward to in pro hockey wasn’t what I deserved or wanted,” Karashik said. 

Decision to enter NCAA transfer portal

With his bachelor’s degree in hand and another season provided by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 23-year-old Karashik entered the transfer portal and landed on Notre Dame’s doorstep last June along with three other graduate transfers – Galajda, fellow defenseman Chase Blackmun (UMass Lowell) and forward Jack Adams (Union-Providence) – who have all made a difference. Karashik has scored 14 points with one goal and 13 assists, and he’s tied for second on the team with a plus/minus ratio of +17 one behind leader Spencer Stastney.

"It was an easy decision to make because of the history and tradition of the program and school,” said Karashik, who is pursuing a one-year master’s degree in business while he enjoys playing in his new league. “I’d say there’s more creativity and skill in the Big Ten. Everyone plays a hard game. Plus, the student sections are consistently sold out every night. I’ve had a blast playing in front of our students here.”

Notre Dame’s student section at Compton should be rocking both nights when the Irish meet Mel Pearson’s Wolverines, who have won seven straight games and are averaging 4.03 goals a game. With four Olympians returning for the series for Michigan, it will be a stiff test.

“As long as we buy into our systems, we will be fine,” said Karashik, remembering the Irish went into Ann Arbor in November and beat then No. 1 Michigan twice in overtime. “We’re a creative team with a bunch of skill and we know how to play the game the right way.”