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Hockey Recruiting: Magnificent 7

Kyle Cassily | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Jeff Jackson’s rebuilding plans for Notre Dame have taken him back to his roots.

The second-year Irish coach and the team’s recruiting specialist, Andy Slaggert, have secured three verbal commitments from players on the U.S. Under-18 national team – where Jackson served as coach and senior director of the National Team Development Program (NTDP) for four years – and three more from the country’s top junior hockey league.

And that, one recruit says, has given the Irish “the top one or two” recruiting class for the 2007-08 season.

The four years Jackson spent with the NTDP wasn’t the only connection he had to a program that produced current Irish seniors Josh Sciba and Michael Bartlett and past Irish stars Brett Lebda and Rob Globke.

Ron Rolston, current head coach of the U.S. Under-18 team, served as associate head coach during Jackson’s 10-year tenure at Lake Superior State from 1986 through 1996. Rolston is also the brother of Brian Rolston – the star of Jackson’s 1992 national champion Lakers and now a center for the Minnesota Wild.

“With [Jackson] being [with the NTDP], he knows the environment the kids are put in here,” Ron Rolston said of the NTDP, located in Ann Arbor, Mich. “He knows that if he gets a player out of here, they’re going to be ready to go as freshmen and be able to contribute right away just from the surroundings and environment they’re put in there.”

Goaltender Brad Phillips (Farmington Hills, Mich.), defensemen Ian Cole (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Teddy Ruth (Naperville, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame from the U.S. Under-18’s prior to the Nov. 8-15, 2006 early letter-of-intent signing period.

United States Hockey League forwards Ben Ryan (Brighton, Mich.), Billy Maday (Burr Ridge, Ill.) and Calle Ridderwall (Stockholm, Sweden) round out the class of 2011.

The class will be joined in the 2008-09 season by U.S. Under-17 team forward Patrick Gaul of Pittsburgh, Penn. Gaul is the first verbal commit for the class of 2012.

“[Gaul] is one of the best in his recruiting class right now,” Ruth said of his Under-17 counterpart.

Ruth, Phillips and Cole played on the same U-17 team, a squad that won the North Division of the North American Hockey League – a top-tier junior league – before losing to Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs.

Maday and Ridderwall will not be strangers when they join the Irish. The two forwards played last season on the top line of the Chicago Chill Midget Majors. The Chill lost 2-1 to the Boston Jr. Bruins in the 2006 USA Hockey Under-18 National Championship.

“It was the first year they played together, but it was one of those things where it looked like they played with each other since they were young kids,” Chicago Chill head coach Anders Sorenson said of Maday and Ridderwall. “Last year at the midget level they were two of the best players out there – that’s for sure.”

Elite junior talent

Ryan is the lone recruit to enter his second season in the USHL, which is the premiere American Tier 1 junior league. He will return to the league champion Des Moines Buccaneers, where he scored the game-winning goal to win the 2006 title over the Sioux Falls Stampede.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound center was selected No. 17 overall in the 2005 USHL entry draft and had 14 goals and 23 assists in 60 games in his first Buccaneer season. Des Moines’ fourth-leading points-scorer committed to the Irish on July 8, 2005.

“He’s the kind of kid that I have to get him off the ice,” Buccaneers head coach Regg Simon said. “He stays out extra on his own, does the extra work – the kind of guy you want to be your leader.”

Simon said that Ryan is a complete center with good two-way skills and “excellent hockey smarts”. Ryan chose Notre Dame over Michigan and Michigan State after Jackson attended one of his tryout camps and the center was able to discuss it with Simon.

“I believe Ben chose Notre Dame for the whole experience,” Simon said. “To get the ND experience and to get the high-end academics. And to play for one of the best coaching staffs in the country.”

Maday was selected No. 2 overall in the 2006 USHL entry draft by the Waterloo Black Hawks, where he will play one junior season before joining the Irish. The right wing -opposite left wing Ridderwall – had 38 goals and 87 assists in 74 games for the Chill. His 125 points put him at the top of the AAA midget Mid America Hockey League leaderboard last season.

Chill coach Sorenson said that Maday was a set-up man with a “great set of hands” and a superb ability to see the ice and anticipate the play. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger was unable to play more than five shifts in the Chill’s 2006 national title loss to the Jr. Bruins due to a deep thigh bruise – an injury he fought and played through in the quarter and semifinals.

“I wouldn’t say it was why we lost, but it was a big reason,” Sorenson said.

Maday committed April 7 of this year to Notre Dame on the same day as Ridderwall.

Ridderwall however will not join Maday on Waterloo – the 5-foot-11, 165-pound left wing was taken No. 19 overall by the Tri-City Storm in the 2006 USHL draft.

Ridderwall is a natural goal-scorer with a strong work ethic Sorenson said.

“He’s got a really accurate and quick shot,” he said. “A really quick shot.”

He had 52 goals and 66 assists last year with the Chill.

“They both have the talent to do it,” Sorenson said of Maday and Ridderwall succeeding at the collegiate level. “Both should be fairly successful but it’s a big step from midgets to juniors and juniors to college. It’s going to depend on how much they’re willing to sacrifice off the ice and on the ice.”

Irish sophomore Garrett Regan played for Waterloo, while juniors Brian D’Arcy and Mark Van Guilder, sophomore Christian Hanson and freshman Kyle Lawson played their junior hockey with Tri-City.

Stars and Stripes

The three U.S. NTDP recruits – Phillips, Cole and Ruth – committed to the Irish separately, but will enter Notre Dame with two years as teammates – ones that will have played a more demanding schedule than most Division I colleges.

The U.S. Under-18’s will play Michigan, Michigan State, Colorado College, Boston College, New Hampshire and North Dakota this season in a mixed schedule of junior and collegiate teams.

“I think in all three of those players right away its going to definitely infuse a lot of desire and passion in those players into [Notre Dame],” Rolston said. “Basically, [the Irish] have got players who are good leaders that have been through a lot of wars, especially playing in the college schedule this season.”

Phillips, a 6-foot-1, 145-pound goalie, will enter Notre Dame to take the place of graduating senior goaltender Dave Brown. Phillips had a 21-14 record in 38 games and held a 2.39 goals against average with a .922 save percentage for the U.S. Under-17’s last season.

“I talked with someone that said [Phillips] was a ridiculous goalie,” Gaul said.

Rolston said that Phillips was a very athletic goalkeeper who uses his size well. Phillips was a strong positional goalie with loads of talent, he said.

Phillips committed Nov. 11, 2005, but is not the first member of his family to attend Notre Dame. His grandfather and uncle – former Irish quarterback Terry Andrysiak – are both graduates.

“[Andrysiak] told me the truth, everything about the school – the good, the bad – but overall it was my decision,” Phillips said regarding his uncle’s advice.

Phillips chose the Irish over Boston College in part because Jackson and his staff pursued the national team goaltender harder.

The first commit of the class was 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman Ian Cole, who committed May 30, 2005.

Cole received a scholarship offer for Notre Dame as a high school freshman – from former Irish head coach Dave Poulin – but chose not to commit until several weeks after Jackson took over the team. He committed after he made a visit to Jackson in South Bend and was convinced that Notre Dame was the right school to choose.

“I tried to work on [Phillips and Ruth] a little bit and make a good impression on them to put Notre Dame in a good light,” said Cole of the advantage of being the first in the class. “So I guess it worked pretty well.”

Cole had four goals and 12 assists in 70 games for the Under-17’s and collected 103 penalty minutes – a sign of his dominating physical presence on the ice.

Rolston said Cole was big and strong, but a puck-moving defenseman that can contribute offense from the point as well. He chose the Irish over defending national champion Wisconsin and Miami, Ohio.

Ruth is a very similar player to Cole, Rolston said – a large defenseman with offensive capabilities. The 6-foot, 190-pound player had three goals and eight assists with 82 penalty minutes last year on the Under-17’s.

“[Ruth and Cole] will probably generate most of their offense coming in late into the play,” Rolston said. “On offense, both have good vision with the puck – [they] make a good outlet pass.”

Ruth committed May 10 and chose Notre Dame over CCHA rivals Michigan State and Miami. He was the latest player for the 2007-08 class to give his word to the Irish.

However, the prior commits of Phillips and Cole were not the main influence for him to choose Notre Dame, Ruth said.

“To be honest, Notre Dame is an amazing school,” he said. “The education is top-notch, and I absolutely love Jackson, [assistant head coach Paul] Pooley and Slaggert. I just wanted to play for them.”

Gaul is the newest verbal commit for the Irish – he gave his word to the team Aug. 9 to enter in the fall of 2008. He made his decision a week before the Under-17’s won the Three Nations Tournament in Rochester, New York

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound forward played for the midget major Pittsburgh Hornets before he entered the NTDP this season.

“Whenever I’d talk to [Jackson] about committing and all that, he would be like, ‘I’m not trying to put pressure on you – it’s a big decision and I don’t want you to make a decision you will regret’,” Gaul said. “You could tell they weren’t just trying to recruit me – they wanted me to make the right decision.”

Gaul and his parents talked about the school and decided that Notre Dame was a better fit than Denver, Boston College and New Hampshire. Gaul knows all about the older, Under-18 commits and the USHL recruits, several of whom he played against at the midget level.

“I played against Calle [Ridderwall] and Billy [Maday] and they’re both just great offensively talented players,” he said. “And when you throw in the good two defensemen and the goalie – it’s looking good for Notre Dame’s future.”

Notre Dame’s future appears promising to not only Gaul and the Class of 2011 recruits, but to someone far more intimate with Jackson and his hockey philosophy.

“As far as [Jackon’s] reputation in the game and ability to coach and win championships – just having somebody of that stature will help recruiting,” Rolston said. “And the name – everyone knows in Canada, the States – everyone has heard of Notre Dame.”

And if Jackson, Slaggert and Pooley continue to bring in elite recruiting classes yearly, everyone will know Notre Dame for a new reason – hockey.