Notre Dame welcomed to Big Ten hockey

John Fineran Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — When Notre Dame opens its inaugural Big Ten hockey season Nov. 3-4 in Ohio State’s Value City Arena at the Schottenstein Center, might the host Buckeyes have something special awaiting the Irish?

Like maybe the Ohio State Marching Band doing its famous “Script Ohio” on the ice surface?

“I’m not sure I can control that,” chuckled Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik during the Big Ten’s preseason coaches teleconference Thursday. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Rohlik and the coaches of the other five Big Ten holdovers — regular-season champion Minnesota, runner-up Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State — unanimously welcomed coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish aboard as Notre Dame follows the lead of Johns Hopkins men’s and women’s lacrosse teams in becoming a sport affiliate member. The Irish left Hockey East after four seasons to get into a more geographically friendlier conference.

No one is happier than Minnesota’s Don Lucia, who begins his 19th season behind the Gophers’ bench where he has won a pair of NCAA titles. Lucia, of course, played defense for the late Irish coach Lefty Smith at Notre Dame, graduating in 1981 before embarking on a coaching career that included stops at Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado College before setting in Minneapolis.

And, of course, Lucia’s son Mario played for Jackson for four seasons before graduating in 2016 and now is property of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

“I look forward to having Notre Dame as a seventh team,” Lucia said. “This is going to be the most competitive season we’ve ever had in the Big Ten. Go back to the (19)70s when Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota were all part of the old Western Collegiate Hockey Association – it’s kind of back to the future. I think the conference is going to be ultra-competitive.”

Most of the coaches would like to see the league get to eight teams. Illinois is reportedly looking into elevating its club team to varsity.

“We’re thrilled about starting to play in the Big Ten,” said Jackson, whose team opens its season with an exhibition against the U.S. National Under 18s on Sunday, Oct. 1 and then plays four non-conference home series in the month, including one against defending NCAA champion Denver (Oct. 13-14), before beginning its 24-game Big Ten schedule. The first Big Ten series in the Compton Family Ice Arena is against Penn State Nov. 10-11.

“We’re thrilled and excited to start playing in the Big Ten,” said Jackson, who takes his program into its third conference since he came to South Bend prior to the 2005-06 season. “It’s something that will be an important contribution to our program and our history. It’s great to be able to re-establish old rivalries from the CCHA (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State). We’ve played recently against Minnesota and Penn State but we’ve not played Wisconsin in a long time.”

Preseason lists

The Golden Gophers, last year’s regular-season champions in the Big Ten, were picked to finish first in 2017-18 in a poll of coaches. Newcomer Notre Dame was picked to finish second, followed by Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

The Big Ten also released a list of 17 players to a preseason watch list. Wisconsin forward Trent Frederic and Minnesota forward Tyler Sheehy were the only players named on every coach’s ballot.

The three Irish players on the list are senior forward Jake Evans, senior defenseman Jordan Gross and junior forward Andrew Oglevie. Evans skated in all 40 games for Notre Dame last season and had career-highs in goals (13), assists (29) and points (42). Gross, who has played in 119 consecutive games, had 10 goals and 22 assists. Oglevie also skated in all 40 games while scoring career highs in goals (21) and assists (20).

Minnesota led the way with four players (Sheehy, fellow forwards Rem Pitlick and Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Ryan Lindgren) while Notre Dame, Wisconsin (goalie Kyle Hayton and forwards Frederic and Cameron Hughes) and Michigan (defenseman Quinn Hughes and forwards Will Lockwood and John Norris had three each.

Ohio State (forwards Mason Jobst and Matthew Weis) and Penn State (goalie Peyton Jones and forward Denis Smirnov) each had two representatives. Michigan State was shut out.

Captains announced

Jackson announced earlier this week that Evans would captain the Irish and Gross and Oglevie will be alternate captains along with senior defenseman Luke Ripley. Evans and Ripley served as alternate captains last season when the team advanced to the Frozen Four at the United Center in Chicago.

“Our three seniors have had a significant role on and off the ice over the last three years,” Jackson said. “They have impacted out team’s culture in a very positive way. As a junior Andrew will be a big help with our young players on campus transitioning into college life. I‘m extremely proud of these young men.”

Irish in Ice Breaker

Notre Dame, Mercyhurst, Providence and Miami (Ohio) will participate in Mercyhurst’s Ice Breaker Tournament on Oct. 12-13, 2018 in the Erie (Pa.) Insurance Arena. The opening-day doubleheader begins with a Providence-Miami matchup followed by the Irish and host Lakers. The consolation and championship games will be played the following day.

2017-18 SCHEDULE

Home games in CAPS; Big Ten games in bold; x-exhibition; all times Eastern

OCTOBER

1 (Sun.) x-U.S. NATIONAL TEAM UNDER 18, 5:05 p.m.; 6 (Fri.) ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE, 7:35 p.m.; 7 (Sat.) ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE, 7:05 p.m.; 13 (Fri.) DENVER, 7:05 p.m.; 14 (Sat.) DENVER, 6:05 p.m.; 19 (Thurs.) SACRED HEART, 7:35 p.m.; 20 (Fri.) SACRED HEART, 7:35 p.m.; 26 (Thurs.) NEBRASKA-OMAHA, 7:35 p.m.; 27 (Fri.) NEBRASKA-OMAHA, 7:35 p.m.

NOVEMBER

3 (Fri.) at Ohio State, 7:05 p.m.; 4 (Sat.) at Ohio State; 10 (Fri.) PENN STATE, 7:35 p.m.; 11 (Sat.) PENN STATE, 7:05 p.m.; 17 (Fri.) at RPI, 7:05 p.m.; 18 (Sat.) at RPI, 7:05 p.m.; 24 (Fri.) MINNESOTA, 7:35 p.m.; 25 (Sat.) MINNESOTA, 7:05 p.m.

DECEMBER

1 (Fri.) at Michigan State, 7:05 p.m.; 2 (Sat.) at Michigan State, 7:05 p.m.; 8 (Fri.) at Wisconsin, 8:05 p.m.; 9 (Sat.) at Wisconsin, 8:05 p.m.

JANUARY

5 (Fri.) at Michigan, 7:05 p.m.; 7 (Sun.) MICHIGAN, 3:05 p.m.; 19 (Fri.) WISCONSIN, 7:35 p.m.; 20 (Sat.) WISCONSIN, 7:05 p.m.; 26 (Fri.) at Minnesota, 8:05 p.m.; 27 (Sat.) at Minnesota, 8:05 p.m.

FEBRUARY

2 (Fri.) at Penn State, 7:05 p.m.; 3 (Sat.) at Penn State, 7:05 p.m.; 9 (Fri.) OHIO STATE, 7:35 p.m.; 10 (Sat.) OHIO STATE, 7:05 p.m.; 16 (Fri.) MICHIGAN, 7:35 p.m.; 18 (Sun.) at Michigan, 5:05 p.m.; 23 (Fri.) MICHGAN STATE, 7:35 p.m.; 24 (Sat.) MICHIGAN STATE, 7:05 p.m.

MARCH

2-4 (Fri.-Sun.) Big Ten Tournament best-of-three quarterfinals (campus sites); 10 (Sat.) Big Ten Tournament semifinals (campus sites); 17 (Sat.) Big Ten Tournament championship (campus site); 23-24 (Fri.-Sat.) NCAA Regionals (East, Bridgeport, Conn.; West, Sioux Falls, S.D.); 24-25 (Sat.-Sun) NCAA Regionals (Midwest, Allentown, Pa.; Northeast, Northeast, Worcester, Mass.)

APRIL

5 (Thurs.) NCAA Frozen Four semifinals at St. Paul, Minn. (Xcel Energy Center); 7 (Sat.) NCAA Frozen Four championship at St. Paul, Minn. (Xcel Energy Center)

Notre Dame’s Jake Evans (18) tries to skate past Boston College’s Matthew Gaudreau (21) during the Boston College at Notre Dame hockey game in Compton Family Ice Arena Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA