Notre Dame hockey: Summerhays in spotlight

STEVE LOWE
SBT Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- If Notre Dame is going to improve on last season’s hockey success, coach Jeff Jackson knows one thing in particular needs to happen.

Jackson was perusing hockey websites the other day, and came across a list of the top 10 goaltenders in college hockey. His goalie, senior Steven Summerhays, wasn’t on that list.

“For us to have a great year, (Summerhays) is going to have to find a way to be in the top 10 goaltenders in the country,” Jackson said.

Not that the native of Anchorage, Alaska, is too far off. We’re not talking about a rebuilding club here: last year’s Irish won the CCHA’s final Mason Cup championship and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they return most of that roster.

Summerhays was a big part of that success as he finished with a 2.01 goals-against average, which was 14th best on the country, as well as a record of 21-12-2. Solid numbers, but not quite elite. And not quite where he, or Jackson, wants him to be.

So this summer, after a few weeks back home with his family, Summerhays traveled to Mississauga, just outside of Toronto, to work for a week and a half at Jon Elkins’ goalie camp. Summerhays was joined there by a number of NHL-caliber goaltenders, including the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith, as well as recent league signees. He watched and learned, making notes of their habits and filing away tips.

“They take such good care of themselves because that’s their job, so it’s just nice to be around all that and see how they function,” Summerhays said. “Picking up little things they do before and after practice, or during warmup, what they do to stretch out. They play 80-some games a year, so it’s a little bit different, but it was good just to see what they do to keep their body in top physical condition throughout the year.”

Jackson likes his goaltenders to have a coach to work with, and Summerhays is the second ND goaltender to work with Elkins. David Brown, who holds most of Notre Dame’s goaltending records and was a Hobey Baker finalist his senior year, was the first.

Summerhays first visited Elkins after his freshman season. This time around, they worked on specific issues, like not opening up holes when he moves in a down position.

“We worked a lot on that,” Summerhays said. “Last year, that was a problem, when I would try to be explosive and move side-to-side, I would open up a lot of holes. We were working on closing that up and that was something that coach Jackson and I have talked about.”

Evidence of that work showed up at times on Sunday in Notre Dame’s 5-2 exhibition win over Guelph. Rebound control has been, and still appears to be, an issue for Summerhays, but on a couple of choice rebounds he gave up Sunday, he moved fluidly across the crease and shut down those secondary scoring chances with relative ease. Summerhays stopped all 15 shots he faced in the game-and-a-half he played before freshman Chad Katunar relieved him.

Katunar will serve as his primary backup this season, but Summerhays is not exactly looking over his shoulder at this point. He’s the starter, and there’s little question about that.

“Steven Summerhays earned that number one job this past year and I look at him going into the start of the year in that role,” Jackson said.

That doesn’t mean Katunar, a 6-foot-5, 232-pound giant in net, won’t see time. It’s imperative for next season that Jackson get him some experience, with this being Summerhays’ final season.

But if things go as planned, and Summerhays does make that ascension to become one of the country’s top goalies, it might be hard to find time for Katunar.

Jackson would be happy to have that problem.

“(Summerhays) can do that, I think,” Jackson said. “The way he played last year at the end of the year, especially in Detroit, he really came into his own and showed he can win. He won that game for us in the third period against Michigan in the CCHA championship.

“I think he has a chance to be a top-10 goaltender in college hockey, he just has to play consistent. That’s the biggest key for him.”

Familiar foe

Notre Dame may no longer be in the CCHA, but the Irish will face a former league opponent right out of the gate. Western Michigan, which now makes its conference home in the NCHC, visits the Compton Family Ice Arena on Friday for the season opener.

That game will be televised on NBC Sports Network, starting at 8:05 p.m. rather than the previously announced start time of 7:35. Notre Dame, ranked eighth in both the USCHO.com and USA Today polls, will then travel to Kalamazoo on Saturday to play the Broncos at Lawson Arena.

Last year, the Irish went

1-1-2 against the Broncos, with both ties coming in a late-season series at Lawson.

WHO: No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Western Michigan

WHEN: Friday, 8:05; Saturday, 7:05

WHERE: Compton Family Ice Arena (Fri.); Lawson Ice Arena, Kalamazoo, Mich. (Sat.)

TV: NBC Sports Network (Friday only)

RADIO: WHFB (99.9 FM)

TWITTER: @NDHockeySBT; @NDHockey