Notre Dame hockey: Injuries haunt Irish
SOUTH BEND -- The injury situation isn’t as dire for Jeff Jackson as is it was back in 2009, but it’s getting close.
Notre Dame’s hockey team lost four defensemen in one weekend, four years ago, and Jackson had to resort to drastic measures — pulling out a gimmick like the Torpedo to compete against Michigan. Instead of three forwards and two defensemen, the Torpedo system, uses two ‘Torpedoes,’ two halfbacks and one defenseman.
This time around, it’s the forward group that’s been hit hard. The Irish (8-3-1), ranked No. 6 this week after a win and tie against Merrimack at home, are missing leading scorer Vinnie Hinostroza (knee), Thomas DiPauli (shoulder), Steven Fogarty (leg), and Mike Voran (lower body), along with defenseman Eric Johnson (shoulder) who has missed six games already.
With the larger number of forwards on a hockey roster, don’t expect to see the Torpedo any time soon, but it’s definitely all-hands-on-deck within the Notre Dame hockey program.
“We are at the bare bones right now,” Jackson said. “We’re traveling with everyone that’s healthy.”
That includes walk-on Joe Aiken, a junior who played on Notre Dame’s club team last year, but tried out and made the team over the summer. Aiken suited up for the first time Saturday night against Merrimack, but didn’t garner a shift in the game, as Jackson chose to roll with, essentially, three lines. But he knows he can’t get away with that on the road this weekend against UMass-Lowell.
“It’s not going to be possible this weekend,” Jackson said. “We can’t just because, first of all, there’s no TV timeouts on Friday night, so we’re going to have to play four lines. There’s no time to take a breather.”
Freshman defenseman Ben Ostlie will join the forwards on that fourth line to help fill the vacancy, along with Aiken and another rookie, Ali Thomas, who scored his first career goal Saturday night. After the Irish exhausted their top three lines in what ended up a 2-2 tie after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, it’s clear Aiken will have to join the fray.
“We’re going to have to see if Joey Aiken can handle the pace,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest question.
“(He) was a guy I never anticipated would probably play for us. But I never say never, because a kid, you never know how they develop over a period of time. And he’s worked hard.”
Those top three lines of healthy players will continue to log heavy minutes, especially on Notre Dame’s special teams. The key for competing with the 13th-ranked RiverHawks on their home ice will be to limit those situations by playing smart with the puck and controlling the action.
“You don’t want to change too much, you want to still come out with the same intensity,” said senior captain Jeff Costello. “It just guys being smarter about shift lengths. .... Staying out of the penalty box.”
Asked if there was a silver lining to going through such a difficult situation early in the season, Jackson smiled.
“Only if it ends,” he said. “If we’re going to have injuries, I’d rather get them out of the way now, as opposed to the end of the year. Hopefully, it doesn’t continue.”
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Notre Dame heads to Massachusetts this weekend for a pair of games against UMass-Lowell, marking the first meeting between the schools, in any sport. The RiverHawks took part in Notre Dame’s 2009 Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, but the teams did not meet up then.
The Irish are 2-1-1 in the Hockey East standings, good for a fourth-place tie with Maine, after a win (4-0) and tie (2-2) at home against Merrimack last weekend.
Lowell is one point behind ND with a 2-1-0 league record. The RiverHawks (8-4-0 overall) were the preseason No. 1 team, but are currently ranked 13th.
Notre Dame leads the nation in penalty killing after holding Merrimack to an 0-for-6 showing last weekend. The Irish have killed off 53 of 57 power plays in 12 games this year, a 93 percent clip. Keeping that pace will be tough with all the injuries, though.
“Every one of the forwards we’re missing are penalty killers,” Jackson said. “We’ve shortened the bench for PK, which hurts us in another area.”
Goaltender Steven Summerhays has been a big reason for ND’s PK success. Summerhays picked up his third shutout on Friday night, tied for most in the country, and is fifth in goals-against average with a 1.66 mark.
On the offensive side for Notre Dame, sophomore left wing Mario Lucia is heating up with four goals in his last three games.
WHO: No. 6 Notre Dame (8-3-1, 2-1-1 HEA) at No. 13 UMass-Lowell (8-4-0, 2-1-0)
WHERE: Paul E. Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday
TV: NESN (Saturday only)
RADIO: WHFB (99.9 FM)
TWITTER: @NDhockeySBT; @NDHockey