Notre Dame hockey begins season with Sunday exhibition

John Fineran | Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — It don’t come easy, as legendary drummer Ringo Starr sang and Notre Dame veteran hockey coach Jeff Jackson knows.

Year Two of Notre Dame’s membership in the Big Ten Conference figures to be different than Year One. The Irish won their first 13 games in the league (during a school-record 16-game winning streak), spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country and finished with the Big Ten’s regular-season and playoff banners.

But one banner slipped away from the Irish during their remarkable 28-10-2 campaign when Minnesota Duluth skated to a 2-1 victory in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game at Saint Paul, Minn.

“It was certainly the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said the 63-year-old Jackson, who coached a pair of NCAA championship teams at Lake Superior State before coming to Notre Dame in 2005 and taking four teams (including the last two) to the Frozen Four with two runner-up finishes in his previous 13 seasons.

Notre Dame faces a mini-rebuild during its second Big Ten season, which figures to be as competitive as it was last season when Notre Dame finished 17-6-1 but just 4-6-1 in its last 11 before regrouping in the postseason.

Moving up to the professional ranks are top scorers Jake Evans (13-33-46) and Andrew Oglevie (15-24-39) and physical defensemen Jordan Gross (10-20-30), Dennis Gilbert (4-6-10) and Justin Wade (0-3-3).

But junior All-American Cale Morris, who recorded a 1.94 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and a 27-8-1 record in winning the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender, returns with fond memories of last season’s ride through the Big Ten and to the NCAA title game.

“We were kind of living in the moment, enjoying it, just sticking to the process, coming to the rink every day with the mindset that we hadn’t really achieved anything yet, that we still had a long way to go as a team,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Morris who anchors the defense led by junior captain Andrew Peeke (5-9-14), senior playmaker Bobby Nardella (5-19-24) and steady sophomore Matt Hellickson (3-9-12).

Jackson also would like to get more playing time for sophomore Dylan St. Cyr, who shut out Alabama-Huntsville, 4-0, in his college debut last Oct. 7. That might happen beginning this Sunday when the Irish entertain St. Cyr’s former squad, the U.S. National Under-18 Team, in an exhibition on the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Faceoff is at 5 p.m.

Upfront, junior Cal Burke (14-12-26) and senior Dylan Malmquist (9-11-20) will be asked to step up their scoring production. Jackson expects junior Cam Morrison (8-15-23), senior Jack Jenkins (3-10-13), sophomore Colin Theisen (6-13-19), senior Joe Wegwerth (6-5-11) and junior Mike O’Leary (3-6-9) to play key roles.

“Dylan is going to have a big step for us and Cal is another I’m looking at as possibly playing center,” Jackson said. “I think we have a number of guys who have the ability to take the next step and be more productive players.

“We worked on fundamentals and skills and last week got into tactical stuff,” Jackson added. “We’ve done some scrimmaging as well to break up a long preseason. It’s been positive. I’ve liked what I have seen.”

Especially from some of his nine freshmen. Defensemen Spencer Stastney, another USNU-18T alum, Nick Leivermann and Nate Clurman have been impressive on defense even though they lack size.

“We won’t be as physical as we were with Gilbert and Wade,” Jackson added, “but I think we’re going to have more mobility.”

Following Sunday’s exhibition, Notre Dame opens the regular season against host Mercyhurst in the Ice Breaker Tournament at Erie, Pa. on Friday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. The Irish play either Miami of Ohio or Providence in the consolation or championship Oct. 13. Notre Dame’s first regular-season home series is against the Bulldogs Oct. 26 (7:30 p.m.) and Oct. 27 (5 p.m.).

“It’s been a long six weeks practicing and getting ready for the season,” Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to it. The guys are biting at the bit.”

FUTURE GLIMPSE: The roster for the U.S. National Under-18 team lists Ryder Rolston, who has verbally committed to the Irish. His father Brian scored 18 goals for Jackson’s 1992 national championship team at Lake Superior State and then was a utility forward for five NHL teams, including a Stanley Cup-winning team with New Jersey, and three U.S. Olympic teams, winning silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Ryder Rolston, a 6-foot,165-pound right-handed forward who turns 17 on Oct. 31, had an assist and three shots on goal during a 6-3 victory at the Muskegon Lumberjacks Sept. 12 and tallied a goal off three shots in a 5-4 shootout victory at the Sioux Falls Stampede Sept. 29. The U.S. team plays at Ferris State Saturday.

Preseason props

In the preseason poll of Big Ten coaches, the Irish are predicted to finish third behind fellow Frozen Four qualifiers Ohio State (first) and Michigan (second). Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are fourth through seventh, respectively.

In the preseason media poll conducted by USCHO.com, Notre Dame is second behind Duluth followed by Ohio State and Michigan. In the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason poll, the Irish are ranked third behind Duluth and Ohio State with Michigan sixth. Minnesota and Penn State are listed in the second 10 of both polls.

The Irish also have home games with ranked teams Boston College (Dec. 31) and Northern Michigan (Nov. 27) and could play Providence (No. 5 in both polls) in the Ice Breaker Tournament Oct. 13.

More overtime

If Ohio State and Notre Dame, who open the Big Ten season Friday, Nov. 2 in South Bend, go into overtime, fans could see the league’s new overtime format. The Big Ten has elected to add another sudden-death, five-minute period featuring 3-on-3 skating.

In the past, Big Ten overtime games used the NCAA-mandated five-minute, 5-on-5 sudden-death format with the winning team receiving three points as it would for a regulation victory. If the game remained tied, each team then received a point and the teams moved into a sudden-death shootout, with the winner of that receiving another point.

Now, in Big Ten games, a five-minute, 3-on-3 sudden-death period will follow if the first five-minute, 5-on-5 sudden-death period ends scoreless. If a goal is scored in the 3-on-3 sudden-death period, that team gets the extra point. If that period, too, is scoreless, the teams will continue with a shootout to determine which team gets the extra point.

Notre Dame’s Cam Morrison celebrates Jake Evans’ goal goal against Michigan during NCAA men's Frozen Four college hockey tournament action April 5 in St. Paul, Minn. Notre Dame won 4-3. 
Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris (32) during the third period of an NCAA college hockey regional tournament game March 23 in Bridgeport, Conn.