Notre Dame's Hinostroza fits hockey playmaker profile

Steve Lowe
South Bend Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — At first sight, Vinnie Hinostroza fit the profile.

Notre Dame hockey followers know the type. They've seen it on a regular basis since coach Jeff Jackson came to town back in 2005 — small, but fast forwards, gritty playmakers with the puck, instant offense when they hit the ice.

It started with Erik Condra, continued with Kevin Deeth, lives on currently in senior T.J. Tynan, and will continue with Hinostroza, a 5-foot-9 freshman center who is tied for second on the team with 28 points, just three behind Tynan.

From his first game, an exhibition contest against Guelph back in early October when he set up ND's first goal and scored one of his own later, it was clear what kind of player Jackson had in Hinostroza, and the rookie hasn't disappointed this season.

"He's had a great first year, in my opinion," Jackson said. "He's one of the top scoring freshmen in the country, he's one of our top scorers. He's had a great year. He's still learning how to play the game a little bit better without the puck. He has good instincts, he understands the game, and I think that's going to be the biggest part of his development over the next few years."

Hinostroza's instincts led to an important win in ND’s final game of the regular season last Saturday. Tied 1-1 in overtime at No. 1 Boston College, Hinostroza threw a shot toward the BC net, knowing that anything heading that direction was a good idea.

"I was kind of protecting the puck along the boards and I cut to the middle," Hinostroza said during Wednesday's media session. "I just saw traffic in front of the net and threw it to the net, and it was fortunate enough to hit off something and go in."

The puck deflected up and over BC netminder Thatcher Demko to give the Irish a win that very well may have clinched an NCAA tournament bid. It also put a smile on his coach's face.

"Hey, any time you shoot the puck in overtime, it's a good thing," Jackson said. "Vinnie had the skill to be able to control the puck along the wall and bring it up high, and get it to the net. That was obviously a huge moment for us this year."

The Irish are looking good for the NCAAs but still have more work left to do Saturday night against Boston University in a Hockey East first round single-elimination game at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Odds are Hinostroza will once again be lined up alongside sophomore left wing Mario Lucia, the team's leading goal scorer with 15. He can thank Hinostroza for setting up a healthy portion of that total.

"He's skilled and sees the ice really well," Lucia said. "I feel like I'm more of a shooter, more of a finisher guy, and he's more of a playmaker, find the open ice and make a play. I think that's what makes us work so well together."

The two were matched up for ND's 5-4 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 9, with Hinostroza setting up two Lucia goals before leaving in the third period with a knee injury that would force him to miss six games. Once Hinostroza returned on Dec. 6, the two have been inseparable, and the results have been clear - — of Lucia's 15 goals this year, Hinostroza has assisted on nine.

It's a predictable result from pairing one of the team's best playmakers — Hinostroza was a sixth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012 for this reason - — with one of college hockey's best shooters - — Lucia was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2011 for this reason.

"I think Mario is a shoot-first type of guy, and I'm a pass-first type of guy, so we tend to find each other out there," Hinostroza said. "He knows how to get open for pucks and when I get him the puck, he scores pretty easy. He probably has the best release I've ever seen, so it's nice to play with him."

Jackson said Hinostroza could have easily been a part of last year's team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but after two straight injury-shortened seasons in junior hockey, the decision was made to hold Hinostroza back one more year to bulk up and get ready for a major step up in competition.

Hinostroza could have sulked about that decision, but instead used it to his advantage.

"I didn't mind," Hinostroza said. "I knew it was in my best interest. For me to come in and make an impact, it was probably the best thing to do to wait a year ... I think that benefitted me a lot because I didn't have school, so it was all about hockey and working out and working on my body, so coming in, that definitely helped me a lot.

"Coming in, I didn't know how much I was going to play and if I was going to be able to make an impact, and (strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski) really helped me through the summer, get a lot stronger. I feel like I was able to make an impact this year and I'm pretty happy with that, but we've still got a lot to do."

Notre Dame's Vince Hinostroza, left, moves by Northeastern's Mike Gunn during the Notre Dame-Northeastern hockey game on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, inside the Compton Family Ice Arena at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)