Ryder Rolston ends Irish hockey career, signs with Blackhawks

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston (12) during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — No. 20 Notre Dame’s hockey season may not be officially over, but one player won’t be playing for the Fighting Irish if they receive a seventh straight NCAA Tournament berth when the 16-team field is announced early Sunday afternoon.

Junior right wing Ryder Rolston, who missed the team’s last nine games after suffering a broken collarbone which required surgery, has decided to forego his final year of eligibility to sign an entry level contract Tuesday with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, the school announced.

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“It’s a dream come true getting the opportunity to sign my first NHL contract,” the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Rolston, who had 20 points (seven goals and 13 assists) in 27 games before suffering the injury in a 3-1 Irish victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 28 at the Compton Family Ice Arena, said in the release.

In 93 games with the Irish, Rolston totaled 53 points (18 goals and 35 assists), twice won Big Ten Star of the Week honors and was Academic All-Big Ten after his sophomore season.

“I’m excited to take this next step and continue the path forward,” Rolston added. A fifth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, Rolston’s rights were later traded to the Blackhawks. He is to report to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford Ice Hogs later this week.

His father Brian Rolston was a forward for five NHL teams during a 17-year career, winning a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995. Both Rolstons played for current Irish head coach Jeff Jackson. Father Brian was a freshman when Jackson’s Lake Superior State 1991-92 team won its first of two NCAA championships. 

“I want to thank coach Jackson for giving me the opportunity to represent this prestigious university for the past three years,” said Rolston.

Notre Dame, which was eliminated in the first round of the Big Ten Postseason Tournament two games to one by Michigan State on March 5, is 16-16-5 after finishing the league regular season in fourth place. The Irish are currently No. 17 in the PairWise rankings, a measuring stick used by the tournament committee to pick the 10 at-large teams which will be joined by six conference champions in the 16-team field announced Sunday. 

The 16th-seeded team in the upcoming NCAA Tournament likely will be the Atlantic Hockey Association postseason tournament champion, either Canisius (PairWise No. 43) or Niagara (No. 44). That means the Fighting Irish would need help from other schools ahead of them to move ahead of current No. 16 Michigan State (18-18-2) and others.

One argument in Notre Dame’s favor is its strength of schedule, which is ranked No. 1 nationally. This season, the Irish have played 20 games against teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ poll — No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Denver, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Boston University, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Western Michigan and No. 10 Penn State — and have compiled a 7-10-3 record.