Morris shutout, Irish offense provide Jackson with record 308th victory

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s hockey season and Jeff Jackson’s wardrobe are in the pink after Monday’s 4-0 non-conference victory over Boston College at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

After suffering a 9-1 loss at Big Ten rival Penn State 23 days ago, the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish rebounded as 11 different players scored a point, a struggling power-play unit scored twice, and junior goalie Cale Morris was his old self, stopping 20 shots for his second shutout of the season after surrendering five goals in a little under 33 minutes to the Nittany Lions.

Even more important, the victory was coach Jeff Jackson’s 308th at Notre Dame, moving the 63-year-old coach one triumph past the modern hockey architect, the late Smith, whose bench wardrobe often was a pink sweater. And one just like it was presented to Jackson by associate athletics director Tom Nevala in a joyous locker room after a post-game videoboard tribute was cheered lustily by many remaining from the sellout crowd of 5,330 fans.

“I think it’s an overrated statistic (the career victories),” the humbled Jackson said. “I am very grateful I had a chance to get to know Lefty a little bit and show respect to him for what he did in starting this program. For me, to be tied to his name at this great university is the best part about it.”

Jackson, who has a pair of NCAA titles at Lake Superior State and taken Notre Dame to four Frozen Fours, made sure to credit his present and past players, his associate head coaches Paul Pooley and Andy Slaggert, strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski and the rest of the hockey and Compton support staff for playing a part in his 308-182-55 record in 14 seasons at Notre Dame.

Smith, who compiled his 307 victories in 19 seasons, passed away seven years ago this Thursday just a little more than two months after Jackson’s Irish played and won their first game in Compton.

Matt Hellickson (on power play) and Matt Steeves scored first-period goals within 34 seconds of each other beginning at 9:14 to give the Irish a 2-0 lead. After a scoreless second, Colin Theisen added a power-play goal at 7:17 of the third before Dylan Malmquist finished things with an empty-net goal at 17:14 as Notre Dame improved to 12-5-1.

Boston College (6-7-2) got 25 saves from goalie Joe Woll.

Morris, an All-American last season while winning the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender and junior defenseman and captain Andrew Peeke saluted their coach.

“It’s definitely something to be part of this,” Morris said. “He’s taken this program to new heights. We’re all super proud of him.”

Added Peeke, who assisted on Theisen’s goal: “It’s special for us to play for (Jackson) every game, every practice.”

The victory came against Notre Dame’s long-time hockey rival Boston College, coached by Jerry York, college hockey’s all-time winningest coach with 1,059 victories in 47 seasons. Both Smith and Jackson locked horns with York when he coached at Central Collegiate Hockey Association rival Bowling Green for 15 seasons, winning a 1984 national championship before returning to his alma mater where he has won four NCAA titles.

The Irish celebration will be a short one with Michigan (6-7-6) coming to town Saturday. The Irish and Wolverines take their Big Ten rivalry outside to the temporary ice rink inside Notre Dame Stadium set up for Tuesday’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks.

Faceoff in the House That Rockne Built is set for 3:30 p.m. It’s the first of 16 straight Big Ten games to end the regular season, but Monday the Irish clearly were a different team than the one that played at Penn State shortly before final exams.

“The guys were ready to play,” Jackson said.

“Going into the game, we wanted to start fast and score the first goal,” Morris said. “We wanted to win the special teams’ game (the Irish were 2-of-5 with the man-advantage and killed off three penalties) and we accomplished both of those goals.”

And one more — getting the record for their coach.

“He’s a really humble guy, he wanted it to be a humble accomplishment,” Peeke said of Jackson.

Missions accomplished.

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson looks on during the clash with Michigan game last January at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend. Jackson has passed Lefty Smith as Notre Dame’s all-time winningest hockey coach.