Notre Dame hockey loses Russo for season

STEVE LOWE
SBT Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- Since he arrived at Notre Dame three years ago, junior defenseman Robbie Russo did not miss a single hockey game for the Fighting Irish, right up until last weekend.

After playing in 102 straight games, Russo was a scratch for the series sweep of Lake Superior State due to an academic issue. When Notre Dame’s spring semester began on Jan. 14, Russo was ruled academically ineligible, and head coach Jeff Jackson confirmed on Wednesday that Russo will not be able to take the ice again until next season, when he will be a senior.

After Friday’s home game, Jackson said Russo was “trying to do some things to get a grade changed,” but clarified that comment after Wednesday’s practice.

“I didn’t like, necessarily, how it came across,” Jackson said. “(Russo) thought that there was a mistake in one of his grades over Christmas break, that the prof made a mistake. That’s why he was going back, to try to see if that grade could be changed. It wasn’t because he was trying to get the grade changed, it just didn’t come across the right way.”

Russo will continue to practice with the team, but will not be able to suit up or travel with the team. The 6-foot, 190 pound native of Westmont, Ill. is Notre Dame’s top-scoring defenseman so far this season, with four goals and 11 assists for 15 points.

A 2011 fourth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders, Russo came to Notre Dame from the U.S. national development program in Ann Arbor, and has consistently been in the lineup since day one of his freshman year.

Freshman defenseman Ben Ostlie played both games against Lake State, and sophomore Andy Ryan moved up to Russo’s spot in the second defensive pairing alongside senior Kevin Lind, who along with classmates Stephen Johns and Shayne Taker, will see an increase in minutes to make up for Russo’s absence.

“It’s definitely devastating to lose our top defensive scorer,” Lind said. “(Assistant) coach (Paul) Pooley pulled me aside and just said it’s the nature of the business. It happens in pro hockey, it happens in junior hockey, where guys get traded and they’re gone from your team. There’s nothing we can really do. We’ve just got to let it go and hope that other guys step up.”

Doubting Thomas

Sophomore left wing Thomas DiPauli, who has already missed 12 games this year due to injury, including both last weekend with an upper body ailment, is again doubtful for this weekend’s home series against No. 11 Northeastern.

DiPauli was injured two weeks ago against Alabama Huntsville and has been out since. When asked if DiPauli would be available for Northeastern, Jackson said, “Probably not.”

Herr rising

In his rookie year last season, left wing Sam Herr played in just 13 games, He recorded one assist and missed the entire month of January due to mononucleosis.

To say Herr was still a bit of an unknown commodity as a sophomore would be an understatement. But through a little more than half of this season, Herr is flashing the promise he showed in his final year of juniors when he was a top scorer in the USHL with Green Bay and earned 2012 USHL playoff MVP honors.

In 23 games this season, Herr has exploded for 12 goals, which is tied for the team lead with fellow sophomore Mario Lucia. Herr also has seven assists and ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 19 points.

“When he gets more ice time, he plays better,” Jackson said after Friday’s 6-3 win over Lake State. “He’s been a huge addition to our offense this year. A big part of it is he’s got good instincts, he’s got good hands, he competes hard, and he gets to the net, and that’s a huge factor.”

Thanks to those attributes, Herr has steadily earned Jackson’s trust that he belongs on the ice during important stretches of games. Herr scored two goals in the third period Friday night, including the game winner after Jackson began to double-shift him down the stretch.

“I’m just trying to play confident,” Herr said. “If I make a mistake, I just try to shake it off. That was probably my problem last year, not playing too much, I was so worried that if I made a mistake then it would affect my ice time.

“With ice time, you build up confidence. You kind of take it as a reward for doing well.”