Notre Dame hockey: Healthy Irish look forward

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- With the impending return of two, and possibly three out of four injured forwards this weekend, Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson was all smiles on Wednesday.

The Irish were able to practice at nearly full strength, and the impending return of Thomas DiPauli, Mike Voran, and maybe dynamic freshman Vince Hinostroza this weekend against Massachusetts would be a big boost after an uneven November.

Notre Dame split two games last Friday and Saturday in its own Shillelagh Tournament at the Compton Family Ice Arena. The Irish (9-6-1) beat Alabama-Huntsville, 5-2 on Friday, then lost in the Shillelagh championship game to Northeastern, 3-2. Notre Dame led that game 2-0, but penalties stalled the momentum as the depleted lineup tried to kill eight Northeastern power plays.

The Irish went 4-5-1 in November and fell from a No. 2 national ranking, all the way to 13th this week. But help appears to be on the way.

"We were actually practicing with five lines today," Jackson said Wednesday evening. "It's looking very positive right now for DiPauli and Voran, and Hinostroza's looking pretty good, too, right now. Could be all three of them, but I don't want to get too excited."

Hinostroza, who injured his knee the second weekend of November against No. 1 Minnesota, is still the question mark of the three, but he appears to be ahead of schedule in his rehab. The only injured forward still doubtful is sophomore center Steven Fogarty.

But three out of four isn't bad, particularly considering the roster-juggling Jackson has had to do. Freshman defenseman Ben Ostlie was moved to the fourth scoring line, alongside walk-on Joe Aiken and another freshman, Ali Thomas. But that pairing almost never played together, with Jackson rotating and regularly double-shifting three centers among the four lines.

Notre Dame will host a struggling UMass team this weekend at the Compton, and the key now is to get some Hockey East points before the team goes on break for nearly four weeks.

Jackson plans to practice the Irish some during the off time, but he's limited in how much he can work with the team on the ice, both by practice restrictions set by the NCAA, as well as the players' academic commitments with finals coming up.

Getting three key players back would go a long way toward ending the first half of the season on a positive note. It's already added some jump in practice.

"Practice this week has been really high tempo," said defenseman Eric Johnson, who just returned from a shoulder injury himself last Friday against UAH. "It's been fun to be back on the ice with everyone and you can just tell now that there's a different energy."

DiPauli on prelim roster

DiPauli found out this week that he was added to the U.S. preliminary roster for the World Junior Championships, which will be held in Malmo, Sweden, beginning Dec. 26.

The roster includes 26 players, which will be pared to 23 on Dec. 23 following a training camp held at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis from Dec. 15-18.

DiPauli's shoulder injury, which forced him to miss 10 games, was threatening his chances to make the team, which is also the reason, according to Jackson, that Hinostroza wasn't added to the roster. But DiPauli says his shoulder is 100 percent now and he's ready to go.

"Right now, I feel great," DiPauli said. "There's no hesitation when I'm out there. I'm going after it, in the corners battling. I have to get back out there and get after it, and I feel good."

Notre Dame's Mario Lucia was a member of last year's USA World Junior team that won gold in Ufa, Russia.

O from the D

Defensemen scored five of Notre Dame's seven goals during last weekend's Shillelagh Tournament and have stepped up their presence in the offensive zone with so many forwards out the past month.

Stephen Johns scored two goals last weekend and just missed a third when his shot hit a post Saturday night against Northeastern.

"They recognize that we're not getting as much offense from our forwards right now," Jackson said of his blue-liners. "It's a big part of our offense for them to be part of it, to activate."

Robbie Russo is tied with 11 other players for 20th in the country in defenseman scoring at 10 points. New Hampshire's Trevor van Riemsdyk leads the nation with 18 points.

Shayne Taker and Johns are right behind Russo with nine points each (four goals and five assists for each). Russo's 10 points are fourth-best on the Irish, while Johns and Taker are tied with two others for fifth. Russo is also second on the team with 49 shots on goal.

Taker's four goals doubles his previous career-high for a season, while Johns' four ties his career high, set two years ago. Both are on pace to set career highs in points, as well.

UMass in a minute

  • Massachusets is 3-10-2 so far, after losing last Saturday, 6-1, at No. 5 Quinnipiac. The Minutemen led that game 1-0, before Quinnipiac scored six unanswered goals.
  • UMass is 56th out of 59 Division I teams in scoring, averaging just 1.8 goals per game. Notre Dame ranks fifth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 2.0 goals per game.
  • One potential bright spot for the Minutemen is their power play, which is 20th at 21.4 percent. Notre Dame's penalty kill, which was the best in the nation a couple weeks ago before a tough weekend at UMass-Lowell, is currently eighth with a kill rate of 87 percent.