Ryan fills in admirably for Notre Dame's Russo

STEVE LOWE
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Andy Ryan never figured he'd play this much for Notre Dame this season.

As a sophomore defense-man with five upperclassmen already entrenched in the Irish defensive corps, Ryan figured to battle with a pair of incoming freshmen for lim-ited playing time at that sixth and final spot on the ice.

That plan changed in mid-January when junior Robbie Russo was declared aca-demically ineligible. As a right-handed defenseman, that loss vaulted Ryan imme-diately into the second de-fensive pairing across from senior Shayne Taker, playing major minutes in key situa-tions.

"Andy Ryan is a guy that's really helped us a lot with the absence of Russo," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. "Andy's the guy that's made that unit better. You expect that out of Taker, but I think there's a little bit more of a comfort level there with those two guys now as confidence has built up with them."

Much of that growth has come under fire, as Ryan played very little as a fresh-man. Coming into this year, Ryan simply wanted to get on the ice and stay there.

"My goal was just to try and be a top-six guy," Ryan said. "I was just happy to be playing. When Robbie went down, my role kind of elevated, which I was fine with.

"I think I've improved throughout the season as I've got more and more minutes."

Ryan has also seen in-creased minutes on the power play, and both of his goals this year have come on the man-advantage.

But overall, the power play has struggled in Russo's ab-sence. Generally considered one of the best offensive de-fensemen in college hockey, Russo quarterbacked the team's top power play unit from the point, and the Irish were clicking along at 20.7 percent (25 goals in 121 at-tempts). But in the 14 games since he was ruled ineligible, the power play has only managed 12.5 percent (7 of 51).

"That's a big factor," Jack-son said. "We've had other guys that have done a good job there, but Robbie had the mobility, the shot and the playmaking ability from out there. We have guys that have two of the three, but not all three, and that's the key."

It's an inopportune time for the power play to be strug-gling, especially with a Hockey East quarterfinal trip to No. 1 seed Boston College this weekend.

The 11th-ranked (nationally) but eighth-seeded Irish beat BC in Chestnut Hill on the Eagles' senior day two weeks ago. Now, they have the unenvi-able task of trying to repeat that performance in a best-of-three series to advance to the HEA semifinals at Boston's TD Garden next week.

Not only are the Eagles the highest scoring team in the country, they also have one of the best penalty-killing units in the nation. In Notre Dame's 2-1 overtime win, the Irish went 0-for-3 on the power play and are just 1 for their last 16.

The month-long surge of goaltender Steven Summer-hays, currently sixth in the country with a 1.88 goals-against average, has helped cover for the decreased of-fensive output, which went from 3.29 goals per game down to 2.50 after Russo’s departure.

"Our goaltending's been more consistent and maybe we've been more consistent in front of him, defensively," Jackson said.

Gerths nearly ready

Senior center David Gerths could be ready to go this weekend after missing the past four games with an up-per body injury.

Jackson said Gerths has shed the red no-contact jer-sey in practice and is "on the cusp of playing" but wasn't sure if that would equal a re-turn to the lineup.

"His first game back, throwing him into a playoff game at BC?" Jackson said. "I don't know. I'm going to have a tough decision to make there."

Gerths, a fourth line stal-wart this season, has one goal and five assists in 31 games.

Roque out at Lake State

Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque will not have his contract renewed after nine seasons at the helm in Sault Ste. Marie, according to a re-lease from the school on Tuesday night.

Roque was an assistant at Lake State under Jackson during his head coaching tenure at the school from 1990-96, a stretch that in-cluded two national cham-pionships.

Roque went 136-165-46 overall and 16-19-1 this sea-son, which included two losses at Notre Dame in January.

"I feel bad for Jimmy," said Jackson, who left Lake State in 1996 to become the first head coach of the newly de-veloped U.S. National Devel-opment program in Ann Ar-bor, Mich. "It's a tough situation. Their overall budget may be a third of what most teams is. It's hard to operate. It's a small school, and it has a pretty rich tradi-tion in hockey.

“He's done a pretty good job there with the recruiting and everything else, but I was always worried about how they'd move forward there, just with the direction college hockey was going."

 Notre Dame's Andy Ryan, center, celebrates with teammate T.J. Tynan (18) after Ryan scored a goal during an NCAA college hockey game on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)