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Hockey: Irish head west to open season with Hall of Fame game

Dan Murphy | Friday, October 10, 2008

No. 4 Notre Dame kicks off the college hockey season tomorrow night against No. 6 Denver in the USA Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Irish take to the ice against one of the top young teams in the country after only six days of practice.

“It’s in their building and they’ll have last change, so it’s going to be a challenge,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

The last time Notre Dame traveled to Denver was almost exactly six months ago when it lost 4-1 to Boston College in the national championship at the Pepsi Center. This time around the game is only two miles down the road at University of Denver’s Magness Arena.

“I’m definitely excited. I’ve been waiting six months to get back on the ice,” Irish captain Erik Condra said.

Condra has led Notre Dame in scoring for the past three seasons, but missed most of the postseason because of a knee injury. Condra said he is back at full health and looking forward to finally getting back on the ice.

Notre Dame, however, will miss two more key players who are slightly banged up after a long preseason. Sophomore defenseman Teddy Ruth and center Ben Ryan will both miss the start of the season with various injuries.

“We’re not going to be as deep as we will be when everybody’s healthy, but we’re just going to have to play at a very high level,” Jackson said.

The Pioneers have one exhibition game under their belts so far this season, where they squeezed out a 5-4 win over the University of Alberta in the final seconds of the game. Last year Denver made it to the Round of 16 before losing 6-2 to Wisconsin.

Denver returns its top scorer in sophomore Tyler Bozak along with junior playmakers Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger. It did graduate starting goaltender Peter Mannino and is inexperienced between the pipes. Against Alberta the Pioneers started sophomore Mark Cheverie, who had 14 saves in the game.

“I’m sure he’s earned his spot there, but we’ll try to get on him early and see if he has all the rust off,” Condra said.

Before the puck drops Saturday night the team will spend Friday at the induction dinner for the 2008 USA Hockey Hall of Fame class. This year’s inductees are Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Cammi Granato.

Jackson coached Hull, Leetch and Richter in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, when he was an assistant for the U.S. Team.

“I know Richter best of all of them because I worked with the goalies on that team, so it will be good to talk to those guys,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he was also looking forward to experimenting with some new line pairings and system changes that will create a more up-tempo team than in the past.