Notre Dame hockey: There’s reason why duo connects

STEVE LOWE
SBT Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- The seemingly instant chemistry between Notre Dame freshman center Vinnie Hinostroza and his left wing linemate, sophomore Thomas DiPauli, is not something that happened overnight.

It’s been brewing since the two were 12-year old kids, growing up in the Chicago suburbs.

It started with the Chicago Mission midget minors program. DiPauli, whose family moved from Italy to the Chicago area for an opportunity to further his burgeoning hockey skills, tried out for the Mission, and became instant friends with Hinostroza.

“I didn’t know anybody, didn’t really speak English, and he was the first guy that came over to me and invited me to his house,” DiPauli said. “We live about thirty minutes from each other back home, so we would have sleepovers and all that stuff together. We grew up together off the ice.”

Now the duo is growing up fast on the same line. Last weekend in a pair of shutout wins over Western Michigan, DiPauli and Hinostroza, along with right winger Peter Schneider, saw a lot of ice time together for the Fighting Irish, who moved up from eighth to fourth in the national polls on Monday.

DiPauli and Hinostroza each scored a goal on the weekend, Hinostroza assisted on another goal, and DiPauli came away with a team-best +5. The pair also spent significant time on the power play and a penalty killing unit that went 11-for-11.

“We’ve been together since day one (at Notre Dame),” DiPauli said. “Me and Vinnie have good chemistry. We’re best friends off the ice, too, and I think that has a lot to do with it. We get along, ever since I moved here. He was my first buddy here and we played together for about four years. The chemistry is there, we both have good speed and vision, and we tend to find each other and make plays out there out of nowhere.”

DiPauli and Hinostroza are on the shorter side (each under the 6-foot and 200-pound marks) but use their speed and peskiness to make plays.

“I like to say we have pretty similar games,” said Hinostroza, whose play also bears similarities to senior center T.J. Tynan. “(DiPauli and Tynan) are both really quick and smart with the puck, and they know what to do when they have it. I try to learn from them every day.”

The Chicago Mission connection is proving to be an important pipeline for the Irish. Six current players came through the Mission program: Tynan, Sam Herr, Justin Wade, and Robbie Russo, along with DiPauli and Hinostroza. And four more committed recruits – Christian Fischer, Tory Dello, Bobby Nardella, and Anders Bjork – are Mission alumni.

With its recent move to Hockey East, there is hope in the program that new recruiting doors will begin to open in New England, but the Chicago pipeline will continue to be extremely valuable. Wisconsin is the closest college hockey team to compete with Notre Dame for recruits, but the Irish have made a strong push to become something of a de facto “hometown” program for Chicagoland.

The Irish would like to keep it that way, too.

“It’s one of the best midget programs in the country,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson of the Chicago Mission. “There’s other Chicago programs that have been pretty darn good that have helped us, too, but it just so happens that the Mission has probably been the best organization at the midget minor level.

“And that’s when we start talking to kids nowadays.”

Parker’s weekend

Legendary Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker, who retired after last season, will be honored by Notre Dame this weekend.

Parker’s weekend will include a visit to Notre Dame’s football practice, speaking with ND coaches and administrators and also attending the Irish hockey game against Michigan Tech on Friday, before taking in the football game Saturday against USC.

Despite careers that overlap by several decades, Jackson and Parker never really got to know each other well until Jackson came to Notre Dame, and the two got involved with helping to start College Hockey Inc.

“Him and I, along with (Michigan coach) Red Berenson, were all heavily involved in the start of College Hockey Inc.,” Jackson said. “We became good friends.

“I really got to know his level of commitment, and not just that, the quality of man. I was touched by the guy. I could just tell by being with him, he’s the kind of guy as a player that you’d want to play for him.”

Parker is third in all-time wins with 897, behind only Boston College skipper Jerry York and Michigan State’s Ron Mason. He led the Terriers to three NCAA titles during his 40 season at BU.

WHO: Michigan Tech (0-1-1) at No. 4 Notre Dame (2-0-0)

WHEN: Friday, 7:35; Sunday, 2:05

WHERE: Compton Family Ice Arena

RADIO: WBND (99.9 FM)

ONLINE STREAM: NBCSports.com (Friday), WatchND.tv (Sunday)

TWITTER: @NDhockeySBT, @NDHockey