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Hockey: Ryan stands out as a senior

Sam Werner | Thursday, December 2, 2010

Senior center Ben Ryan may not be lighting the lamp as much as he has in years past, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been finding his way onto the score sheet.

Through 15 games, Ryan has only two goals, but has already racked up 14 assists, just two short of his career high.

“You know, I think in some ways he’s changed his game in a positive way from a leadership perspective,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of Ryan. “I don’t think he feels he has to be the guy who puts the puck in the net all the time.”

For his part, Ryan said he hasn’t necessarily changed his style of play, but rather just adapted to the situation in which he found himself. He pointed out that during his freshman and sophomore years, when he scored 10 and 12 goals, respectively, he played most of his minutes with Erik Condra, one of the team’s top playmakers.

“I think it’s kind of natural,” Ryan said of his transition to set-up man. “I don’t think it’s necessarily me changing my game up. It’s more the players I’m playing with now.”

Ryan’s 14 assists are second on the team only to senior linemate Ryan Guentzel’s 15. Ryan said his and Guentzel’s years of experience have helped them work together to set up scoring chances.

“We’re really just focused on seeing the ice and making plays rather than the system and where we’re supposed to be because we’re already acclimated to that,” Ryan said.

So far this year, Ryan has played primarily with freshman left wing Anders Lee, who leads the team with nine goals. The senior has also seen ice time with classmate Calle Ridderwall, who has seven goals on the year.

“As long as somebody’s putting the puck in the net I’m sure that [Ryan]’s happy,” Jackson said. “I think he’s been really well-balanced in his game.”

Part of that all-around style has manifested itself in the faceoff circle. Heading into the season, Ryan was expected to take a lot of the key draws for the Irish after the graduation of Kevin Deeth. So far this season, Ryan has won 51.5 percent of his faceoffs. The Irish struggled in the circle earlier in the season, which Jackson credited to freshmen adjusting to Division I hockey. Ryan said he has been working with freshmen centers T.J. Tynan and David Gerths to improve their faceoff percentages.

“You have to be able to realize where you are on the ice,” Ryan said. “Taking an offensive zone draw is totally different than the [defensive] zone. Offensive zone, you’re willing to try some things, take some chances, because the puck’s not necessarily coming right back down your throat again because you’re in the o-zone, but in the d-zone you can’t go in there trying to win it clean because if you lose it clean, they’re probably getting a shot on net.”

Ryan is also one of three senior alternate captains this season, no easy task on a team that features 12 freshmen.

“With all these freshmen that came in in the fall, I just thought back to what it was like when I was a freshman, what I was going through,” Ryan said. “We’re right there to help these guys out.”

These next two weeks will pose an especially interesting challenge for the senior leadership on the Irish roster, since they not only have to contend with a road trip to No. 6 Miami this weekend and a home series against Northern Michigan after that, but the freshmen’s first final exams are looming around the corner.

“We just kind of encourage the guys to have fun at the rink because when you’re here it’s time to maybe goof around a little bit,” Ryan said. “It’s serious, but you get to goof around a little bit and let things go because as soon as you leave here it’s right back to the books.”

Ryan also said he has enjoyed the murderers-row schedule Notre Dame has faced recently — with consecutive series against No. 11 Michigan, Michigan State and No. 7 North Dakota, leading up to this weekend’s showdown against the RedHawks — because it would help the Irish prepare for the gauntlet that is postseason play.

“It’s good to have this experience early in the season because it teaches you that you can’t have any off nights,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to come and bring it every night.”