Hockey: Irish take ice in exhibition game
Joe Meixell | Friday, October 6, 2006
Notre Dame had only six days to prepare with its coaching staff for tonight’s exhibition game against Windsor, but the team spent the off-season in the weight room to get bigger and jumpstart an offense that frequently lagged last season.
The first day the Irish could officially hold practice was Sept. 30. The 7:30 p.m. game in the Joyce Center against Windsor will be the only exhibition match-up of the season, as the Irish open the regular season Thursday night at home against Minnesota State-Mankato.
But the short amount of preparation time does not compare to the struggles the team faced last year when it had to learn new systems and a new coaching style under then first-year head coach Jeff Jackson.
“As far as learning the systems and what not, you think it would be a little easier and a little less growing pains, because we’ve had a year under Coach [Jackson] and we know how he works,” captain T.J. Jindra said.
Jackson said that the pick-up hockey and shinny – a free-for-all fight over control of one or more pucks – that the team played over the summer has led to a decrease in turnovers and better puck protection in practice. Players have also devoted the off-season to putting on muscle mass.
“[We’ve] been in the weight room an awful lot,” Jindra said. “We’re just trying to get bigger and stronger, a lot of guys have put on some weight. That’s what coach wanted.”
The Irish players that returned this season averaged 190.2 pounds each in 2005, while this year those same players weigh in at 200.2 pounds per man.
The Irish hope that their offense that finished 10th out of twelve teams in the CCHA in goals scored per game – 2.47 – and 11th in shots per game –25.61 – will benefit and that the extra weight will cause more wins in corner battles.
And although Notre Dame finished with middle-of-the-pack numbers in CCHA defense, the additional pounds could gum up the opposition’s ability to move within the Irish zone and add physicality to a penalty-kill unit that was third-worst in the league in kill percentage.
“Some of the younger returning guys have shown great improvement in the weight room,” Jackson said, “And right now it looks like they may carry that over onto the ice.”
The team has carried its unity onto the ice as well and wears it on their backs – literally. Every Irish practice jersey has the No. 7 steamed onto it, and it holds a special meaning to the players and coaches – a meaning that they won’t say beyond the locker room.
“Lucky number seven,” Jindra joked about the number’s significance.
uJindra was named team captain Monday by Jackson, and it is the second year that the senior has held that role. Jindra was joined by senior alternate captains Jason Paige – also in his second year as alternate captain – Wes O’Neill and Tom Sawatske.
Jackson said he and Jindra had to learn to trust each other early last season, but were soon able to establish a common bond.
“The one thing about him is he wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s very sincere,” Jackson said. “We talk about ownership, and he was the first guy that really bought in and said that he was going to stand up for this program and make sure things are done in the right way.”
uSophomore forward Erik Condra was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round, 211th overall, of the NHL Draft June 24. Condra led the Irish in scoring in his rookie season, the first freshman to do so since Jamie Ling did it in 1992.
uIrish defenseman Luke Lucyk has left the program for a year to spend a season at the junior level. Lucyk will return to the Tri-City Storm, his former team in the United States Hockey League, but will re-join the Irish next season. Jackson said that Lucyk’s age allowed him to make the switch in order to gain more experience and his scholarship will still be there upon his return.