Young Notre Dame hockey team off to 0-2 start

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – With 10 freshmen on his roster, Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson said Sunday that he's going to have to be patient.

"I have to be, I have no alternative," Jackson said after watching his Irish squad get shut out, 3-0 by Minnesota Duluth, to fall to 0-2. "We've got some good, young players, but they're young. We have more true freshmen than we've ever had here since I've been here."

They're also 0-2 for the first time since Jackson came to Notre Dame in 2005-06, when that team started 0-3. But it was a different time, with a different talent level, and more is expected of this group, which is rich in promise, if not seasoning.

"That youth shows up in certain areas of our game (Sunday)," Jackson said.

Minnesota Duluth goaltender Matt McNeely stopped 23 Notre Dame shots to blank the Irish in the consolation game of the Ice Breaker tournament at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

In the earlier championship game on Sunday, No. 1 Minnesota played the part of the nation's top-ranked team with a convincing 3-0 dismantling of Rensselaer.

Duluth's Dominic Toninato, who was named to the Ice Breaker all-tournament team, had a goal and an assist against the Irish after scoring twice against Minnesota on Friday.

"For an early season game, I thought for 60 minutes we did a lot of good things," said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. "It was not just the win, but how we played. That's important this time of year."

Irish freshman goaltender Cal Petersen made his first career start and played well, stopping 26 of 29 shots, but got little help from the Irish skaters in front of him.

For a second straight game, Notre Dame's passes were just a little behind, scoring chances were fired just a little wide, defensive rotations just a little slow in developing.

"It's the veterans that have to lead the way, and with some of the mistakes they're making, they're trying too hard," Jackson said. "They have to keep the game simple and play the way we're capable of."

The Irish generated a handful of good offensive looks in the first period, but Steven Fogarty's close-in shot from the right circle was blocked by a Duluth defender, and Mario Lucia's choice look from the left circle missed an open top right of the net by inches.

The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal in the first period, then added two more goals in the second period as the frustration began to mount for the Irish.

"With so many young guys, it's kind of like a new team altogether," Jackson said. "The older guys are just trying to feel their way through after following for three years. They have to find their game and recognize what we are right now."

Nathan Billitier had the best scoring chance of the night for the Irish at 6:30 of the third period with a wide open look right between the circles, but McNeely stopped it with his glove and covered up the rebound.

It was a microcosm of how it went all afternoon for the Irish.

"It's pretty obvious the chemistry's off a little bit," said senior defenseman Robbie Russo. "Things aren't really clicking right now and it's costing us a little bit."

After a shaky first college experience when he allowed four goals in relief during Notre Dame's 5-4 exhibition loss a week ago, Petersen looked more like the guy the Irish thought they were getting.

The Anchorage native stopped 11 of 12 shots in the first period and kept the misfiring Irish in it early. The first two goals against Petersen came on the power play, and the third followed an Irish turnover in their own zone.

But like in Friday's 3-2 loss to RPI, the second period and the power play were both struggles. For the weekend, the Irish were outscored in the second period, 4-0, and went 0-for-10 on the power play.

"That has to be the biggest issue for us right now, the power play," Jackson said. "We're just going to have to put some more time into it. We haven't put as much time into it, maybe, as we should have. I'll take credit for that."

At Compton Family Ice Arena

FIRST PERIOD

UMD - Tony Cameranesi, 1 (Dominic Toninato, Carson Soucy) PP, 7:40. Shots on goal: UMD 12, ND 7; Penalties: UMD 4-8, ND 3-6.

SECOND PERIOD

UMD - Alex Iafallo, 1 (Andy Welinski, Matt McNeely) PP, 6:56; UMD - Toninato (Adam Krause, Iafallo) 19:24. Shots: UMD 10, ND 8; Penalties: ND 3-6, UMD 1-2.

THIRD PERIOD

No scoring. Shots: ND 8, UMD 7; Penalties: UMD 3-14, ND 3-6.

UMD 1 2 0 – 3

ND 0 0 0 – 0

Shots: UMD 29, ND 23; Saves: ND 26 (Cal Petersen), UMD 23 (Matt McNeely); Power plays: UMD 2-8, ND 0-5; Penalties: ND 9-18, UMD 8-24; Records: UMD 1-1, ND 0-2; Attendance: 4,468.

Jeff Jackson's Notre Dame hockey team played to a 2-2 draw Saturday against Vermont. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)