Return of Bischel, Janicke and incoming freshmen have Notre Dame hockey coach upbeat

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel (30) looks to make as Michigan forward T.J. Hughes (13) controls the puck during the Michigan-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, November 12, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — It’s hard to ignore the success Notre Dame has enjoyed in hockey during the past 18 seasons under head coach Jeff Jackson.

Since the 2005-06 season, Notre Dame has enjoyed 10 seasons of 20 or more victories under the 67-year-old Jackson, who coached a pair of national champions at Lake Superior State. Notre Dame’s all-time winningest hockey coach with 392 victories, Jackson has guided 12 NCAA tournament teams, including four Frozen Four squads, two of which (2008 and ’18) which were national runners-up.

More:Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson talks NCAA Frozen Four, Big Ten expansion

The 16-16-5 season which Notre Dame completed in early March broke Notre Dame’s streak of six straight NCAA appearances. The 19th-ranked Irish just finished out of tournament consideration with their No. 17 PairWise ranking.

It was frustrating at times for Jackson and his long-time associate head coaches Paul Pooley and Andy Slaggert, particularly with offensive output (Notre Dame scored just 85 goals; their 2.30 average being 53rdout of 61 teams playing Division I hockey) and penalty-kill percentage (the Irish went from No. 1 in 2021-22 to No. 59 in ’22-23).

But the season did have its high moments, particularly the stellar play of senior goaltender Ryan Bischel, who started all 37 games and willed the Irish to a fourth-place showing in the competitive Big Ten. To get there, his Irish teammates took nine of a possible 12 points in their final two regular-season series with Top 10-ranked teams Ohio State and Michigan. Junior defenseman Drew Bavaro, a transfer from Bentley who finished fifth on the team in scoring with 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists), scored both goals in Notre Dame’s 2-1 overtime victory at Michigan on the final night of the regular season.

Bischel, Trevor Janicke return for graduate seasons

Notre Dame announced recently that Bischel and forward Trevor Janicke would return for their fifth seasons, using their COVID-19 pandemic extra years to pursue graduate degrees, and both may be wearing the letter “C” on their uniforms as captains.

Janicke, whose brother Justin will be a junior left wing next season, finished second on the team to Chayse Primeau in scoring with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) while splitting time between right wing and center. Janicke served as an alternate captain along with junior Landon Slaggert in 2022-23.

Notre Dame forward Trevor Janicke (27) during the Michigan State-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, March 04, 2023, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

Bischel, of course, was the team’s most valuable player and the Big Ten’s goaltender of the year after starting every game and finishing with a 16-16-4 record with five shutouts, a 2.39 goals-against average, a .931 saves percentage (third in the nation) and 1,183 (first nationally).

“I think it’s huge,” Jackson said of the impact Bischel and Trevor Janicke will have. “Just based on what Ryan did for us this past year with his performance, but he has grown as a young man, too. I think he's grown to where he'll be a candidate to be a captain for next year. Trevor, same thing. Hopefully we can keep Trevor on the right side and that will help his production even more. He helps us in all situations.”

Roster losses and possible add

Junior right wing Ryder Rolston, whose season (7 goals and 13 assists in 27 games) ended with a broken collarbone which required surgery in late January, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks but has yet to appear in a game with their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Three defensemen — captain Nick Leivermann, Chase Blackmun and Ben Brinkman — have used up their eligibility. 

Three players have reached pro agreements with ECHL teams — graduate centers Chayse Primeau (Florida) and Jackson Pierson (Fort Wayne) and senior forward Solag Bakich (Reading). Another senior forward, Jesse Lansdell, will receive his diploma in May but is in the transfer portal for the extra season he received from the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More:Bischel, Trevor Janicke returning for graduate seasons with Irish hockey program

Jackson couldn’t comment but the Gopher Puck Live website reports that 22-year-old Providence senior Patrick Moynihan, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound right wing who 37 goals and 34 assists in 123 games with the Friars, will use his COVID-19 year as a graduate student at Notre Dame.

Incoming freshmen

Jackson did talk about the seven freshmen he expects will join the team this summer for classes and workouts. 

Danny Nelson — F, 6-3, 203, Age 17, Shoots Left, Maple Grove, Minn. (USNTDP) has split time between the U18 team (17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points in 54 games) and the USNTDP Juniors of the USHL (8 goals, 9 assists, 17 points in 23 games). His older brother Henry, a defenseman, will also enter Notre Dame as a freshman. 

Jackson: “Danny is going to have a big impact. I expect he will be a second-round (NHL) draft pick. He’s big, rangy, smart and skates well. He can play right wing but I like him at center. He’s going to be a positive influence in our lineup.”

☘ Cole Knuble — C, 5-11, 183, Age 18, Shoots Right, Grand Rapids, Mich. (Fargo Force/USHL) has 62 points (29 goals, 33 assists) in 52 games for the USHL team. 

Jackson: “(Another) truly impactful freshman. Cole is a 30-goal scorer in the USHL and we haven’t had one of them in a while. He’s a right-handed forward, which helps us on the power play. He’s playing center right now.”

Brennan Ali — C, 6-0, 194, Age 19, Shoots Left, Glencoe, Ill. (Lincoln Stars/USHL) has 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 51 games for the USHL team. A former USNTDP Under 18 player, Ali was picked in the seventh round of the 2022 NHL Draft (212th player overall) by the Detroit Red Wings. 

Jackson: “Brennan is a big power forward, he skates well and he's going to help us with his speed and he's going to help us with the physical aspect of the game.”

Maddox Fleming — RW, 6-1, 194, Age 19, Shoots Right, Rochester, Minn. (Sioux Falls Stampede/USHL) has 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 53 games.

Jackson: “When (Fleming) was with the national team (in 2021-22), he left in the midseason of his second year there just because he was stuck in a pretty defensive role. He went to Sioux Falls and had a pretty good season this year.”

Carter Slaggert — F, 5-9, 172, Age 18, Shoots Left, South Bend, Ind. (USNTDP) has split time between the U18 team (3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points in 54 games) and the USNTDP Juniors of the USHL (0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points in 23 games). He will be the third son of associate head coach Andy Slaggert to play at Notre Dame, following 2022 grad Graham and current junior Landon.

Jackson: “Carter has got a history of being a better offensive player than he’s show the past two years. We feel he can contribute because of his tenaciousness. He’s also very fast and he’s a good penalty killer.”

Henry Nelson — D, 6-1, 174, Age 20, Shoots Left, Maple Grove, Minn. (Lincoln Stars/USHL) has 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 38 games for the USHL team. His younger brother Danny will also enter Notre Dame as a freshman forward.

Jackson: “When Henry was a high school player, he was a really good offensive defenseman with some power-play potential. (But) he missed almost a full year of hockey having an injury. I think he can help us with his mobility, his skating, his hockey sense, his puck skills.”

Paul Fischer — D, 6-0, 183, Age 18, Shoots Left, River Forest, Ill. (USNTDP) has split time between the U18 team (4 goals, 15 assists, 19 points in 48 games) and the USNTDP Juniors of the USHL (2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points in 22 games). 

Jackson: “Paul is another guy that could be a really, really solid defensive force even as a freshman. He's probably projected as a second- or third-round draft pick right now. He’s probably a little bit in the mold of Andrew Peeke — a good defender with some offensive tools.”

The 2023-24 schedule

Notre Dame’s strength of schedule was ranked No. 1 for most of this past season and its six Big Ten opponents completed the top seven spots — Michigan (2), Minnesota (3), Michigan State (4), Penn State (5), Ohio State (6) and Wisconsin (7). Notre Dame also played two-game series with Western Michigan (12), Northern Michigan (24) and Alaska (38) and had single games with Denver (14), Boston University (15), Boston College (18) and Air Force (57). 

In addition to its 24 Big Ten games, Notre Dame is scheduled to play nine of its 10 non-conference games at home, according to Jackson, with only a road test at Atlantic Hockey Association regular-season champion RIT (25-13-1 in 2022-23). Notre Dame’s annual “Catholic” showdown with Hockey East member Boston College (14-16-6) is scheduled for Compton. Home series are scheduled with AHA member Mercyhurst (10-23-3), ECAC member Clarkson (16-17-4), Hockey East member Boston University (29-10-0) and first-year independent Augustana which will be transitioning toward membership in the CCHA.