Notebook: Big holes left for Notre Dame hockey to fill

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Jeff Jackson sees the benefits around his Notre Dame hockey program: A Frozen Four appearance in 2016-17 and a new affiliate membership in the travel-friendly Big Ten Hockey Conference.

The expectations are high for the Irish, who went 23-12-5 last season and have 21 lettermen returning for a team that is a preseason pick to finish in the Top 10.

Jackson is excited, but he knows he and the Irish are going into this 2017-18 season — beginning Sunday afternoon with a 5 p.m. exhibition against the U.S. Nationals Under-18 team at Compton Family Arena — without their security blanket.

“For me, it (success) is going to be who makes up for (the loss of goalie) Cal Petersen,” Jackson said Wednesday afternoon at the team’s annual media day.

Petersen, now toiling for the NHL Los Angeles Kings, set standards between the pipes for Notre Dame that will be hard to surpass. Besides starting his last 90 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Petersen finished his career first in career save percentage (.924), second in minutes played (6,498:02), third in saves (3,042) and goals against average (2.30), was tied for third in victories (55) and was fourth with 11 shutouts, six of which came last season when he captained the team.

In May, Petersen opted to forego his final season at Notre Dame, as did forward Anders Bjork, who scored 21 goals and 52 points and is with the NHL Boston Bruins. 

Jackson feels his team can overcome the loss of Bjork. He hopes the Irish can do the same with Petersen. Sophomore Cale Morris (6-1, 190) and freshman Dylan St. Cyr (5-9, 170) are his primary choices.

“That’s the bigger question going in,” Jackson said, “although I have confidence in the goaltenders we currently have. It’s a matter of who steps up to be that guy, or do we go with two guys for awhile?”

Jackson plans to give Morris and St. Cyr work in Sunday’s exhibition and each a start in the season-opening series Oct. 6-7 against Alabama-Huntsville. He hopes one will establish himself as the No. 1 goalie before Notre Dame hosts defending NCAA champion Denver for a two-game series Oct. 13-14 in the Compton. Denver ended the Irish season with a 6-1 victory in the semifinals at the United Center April 6.

A goalie competition "always seems to work itself out, in my opinion,” Jackson said. “I may go to a point where you play until you don’t win. If you win, you play the next night. That way, things will sort themselves out in a hurry. For the time being, in the early part of the season, I want to take a look at both guys.”

Replacing Bjork

With 21 of 28 players returning from a season ago, Jackson feels the Irish will have plenty of talent to replace the offense Bjork provided.

"I think back to the movie “Moneyball” when I use the word aggregate,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to make up those 50 points with everybody. I think we can make up those points.”

Bjork may be gone, but the next five scorers from last season return in junior forward Jake Evans (13 goals, 29 assists, 42 points), junior forward Andrew Oglevie (21-20 — 41), senior defenseman Jordan Gross (10-22 — 32) and sophomore forwards Cam Morrison (12-12 — 24) and Dylan Malmquist (10-14 — 24). Malmquist is expected to miss a couple of weeks with an unknown injury.

“There are certainly guys returning from last year’s team that can be more productive offensively,” Jackson continued. “I expect Cam Morrison to eventually be a 20-goal scorer; I expect good things from Dylan Malmquist, even though he is out right now with an injury. There are other players like (sophomore forward) Cal Burke who can have an uprise with his production. And you hope there’s a surprise or two. … You always do. Last year it was Andrew Oglevie. And I expect our blue line is going to be productive offensively. I think we could make up those points.

Preseason polls

Notre Dame is ranked No. 8 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason polls. Defending champion Denver is ranked No. 1 and is followed in both polls by Boston University, Minnesota and Harvard.

Minnesota, coached by former Irish defenseman Don Lucia, and Notre Dame are among five of the seven Big Ten teams receiving spots in the USCHO’s Top 20. The others are Penn State (No. 10), Wisconsin (No. 12) and Ohio State (No. 19).

Boston College’s Joseph Woll stops a shot by Notre Dame’s Andrew Oglevie (15) during the Boston College at Notre Dame hockey game in Compton Family Ice Arena Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA