With speed up, Notre Dame hockey expects more fireworks

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The buzzword for Wednesday's Notre Dame hockey media day, at least for head coach Jeff Jackson, could have been: DUCK.

Not the waterfowl. As in, "Look Out" after Jackson took an errant puck to the back of the head that required an application of glue (but no stitches) to close up.

"That's what I get for standing up on the concourse," Jackson said in reference to where the incident occurred. "I'm on the ice every day, and then that happens."

Jokes about entering concussion protocol aside, the more formal theme of the media session was simple to sum up: SPEED.

As in, the Irish have it, and in abundance. Ranked ninth in the preseason USCHO national poll, and picked to finish in a tie for second place in Hockey East by league coaches, Notre Dame will rely on that speed to build on a successful season last year that ended with a third-place finish in the league followed by an overtime loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"I think we're faster," Jackson said. "Especially the young guys on the back end."

The Irish will have to replace two regular defensemen, graduated senior Andy Ryan and Justin Wade, who is not enrolled in school for his senior season. Jackson did not go into the specifics of Wade's absence.

Two incoming freshmen blueliners — Andrew Peeke and Tory Dello — bring advanced skill and speed for their age, especially Peeke, who was taken in the second round, 34th overall, by Columbus in this year's NHL draft.

"Andrew Peeke has the potential to be a great defender," Jackson said.

Along with improving junior Tony Bretzman, they add to an already talented defensive top four of Jordan Gross, Bobby Nardella, Luke Ripley, and Dennis Gilbert.

"Definitely, you can tell we've been a lot faster," Ripley said. "We've got a lot more skill, we're more dynamic. We'll be more of a threat in the back end."

In a rare move for a hockey team, junior goaltender Cal Petersen was named team captain, a unique challenge for a goalie. As such, in-game captain's duties will be handled by the alternate captains, Jake Evans, Anders Bjork and Ripley.

"When we show up for game nights, (Petersen's) shut down from that role," Jackson said. "He's got to be focused on playing because he's in a unique position, and he can't communicate with the officials anyways, it's a rule. His job as a leader is going to be in his performance."

Petersen's performance has improved in each of his first two season to put him among the best goaltenders in the country this year, which is exactly what the Irish need from him.

"He's got to be a top-five guy in the country this year," Jackson said. "He's got to be a potential All-American. That's how he's going to have to play."

That's especially true given the offense that needs to be replaced. Gone are nearly 50 goals from graduated forwards Thomas DiPauli, Mario Lucia, Steven Fogarty, and Sam Herr.

But ND's top two leading scorers return in Bjork (12 goals, 35 points) and Jake Evans (8 goals, 33 points).

Freshman Cam Morrison is a 6-3, 212-pound forward whose skills might eventually remind some of former Irish captain Anders Lee, but the second-round NHL draft pick (40th overall by Colorado over the summer) has some work to do to get there.

Three names that were repeatedly thrown out Wednesday were the sophomore trio of Dylan Malmquist, Andrew Oglevie and Jack Jenkins, who should become familiar new names on Notre Dame's power play this year.

"The more opportunity that's been given to them, they've taken it," Bjork said. "They'll be big players for our team."

Opportunity for the team in general has a local flavor: in this final year in Hockey East before the Irish move to the more geographically friendly Big Ten, the Frozen Four will be held a couple hours west at the United Center in Chicago.

The last time the Irish switched leagues was in 2013, moving from the folding CCHA to Hockey East. That season ended with the Irish winning the final Mason Cup title. A similar ending to their short-lived time in Hockey East is high on Jackson's wish list.

"We always want to go out as a champion," he said. "Hopefully (it's) like the last year in the CCHA."

Northeastern's Matt Benning and Notre Dame's Dylan Malmquist battle for the puck Thursday, November 12, 2015, during the Northeastern-Notre Dame hockey game at Compton Family Ice Arena. (Tribune Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)