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A Fresh Start

By CHRIS ALLEN | Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of the dozens of statistics that demonstrate the youth movement currently sweeping Notre Dame hockey, perhaps none is more emphatic than the following: out of the hundreds of freshmen currently playing college hockey, not just the top one, but the top two leading rookie scorers wear “Irish” across their chests each weekend.

Center T.J. Tynan and wing Anders Lee have taken not just the Notre Dame hockey scene, but the national hockey scene, by storm. Even Lee admits the early success is a surprise.

“It’s been a wild ride. We’ve come a long way from the summer,” Lee said. “With 12 freshmen coming in, we had a lot of work to do, just trying to bring a new young attitude to the team. … It’s been really fun and I’ve just been enjoying it.”

After a subpar season by the program’s standards in 2009-10, Irish coach Jeff Jackson turned over nearly half his roster, bringing 12 freshmen into the highly competitive Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). The players have flourished in all aspects, whether it be goalie Steven Summerhays’ five wins in goal, defenseman Stephen Johns’ undisputed role as the team enforcer on the ice, or wing Mike Voran’s 17 points in conference play, good for fourth on the team in that respect. But it is Tynan’s 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) and Lee’s 40 (21, 19) that have fueled the Irish to their 21-10-5 record and top-10 ranking. Tynan and Lee have combined to win four of a possible five CCHA Rookie of the Month awards, with Tynan pulling in National Rookie of the Month honors in November. Tynan was quick to credit the success to his teammates and coaches.

“All the guys are such a great influence on me,” Tynan said. “The team is so close and the coaches have done a great job. I’m surprised [at the success] but I’m not that surprised because of the people around me.”

Tynan has emerged as a fan favorite due to his relatively small stature compared to the average collegiate hockey player — he is listed at 5-foot-8 — and his feisty, quick-skating style of play. Voran said that off the ice, Tynan’s teammates couldn’t be happier for the Orland Park, Ill., native’s success — which includes making the watch list for the award given to the nation’s top player, the Hobey Baker Award.

“He’s probably the nicest guy out there,” Voran said of Tynan. “You couldn’t be happier for a guy like that. He’s such a humble guy, and obviously he’s pretty fun to watch. Even the guys on the team, when we’re watching him, we get surprised sometimes.”

The success of the freshman duo is all the more impressive when the circumstances under which they came to campus were considered. Tynan wasn’t even expected to join the Irish, but the departure of Jarred Tinordi and Kyle Palmieri to the NHL opened up a spot on the team. Lee, on the other hand, was recruited to play football by Northern Illinois and Minnesota, among others. When the Irish came calling, the Edina, Minn., native had an easy choice.

“At the end of the day, I just remember sitting down and saying, you know, I love hockey so much,” Lee said. “There was nothing that was going to keep me from that. I love football, but that was pretty much just during the season — after that, it was all hockey. When I visited here and realized I could go to the football games on Saturday and really enjoy it, it was just the best of both worlds.”

Lucky for the Irish that Lee and Tynan chose to lace up their skates in South Bend. In the wake of recently graduated national stars such as Ian Cole and Erik Condra, a new duo of stars appears to be ready to take the Irish into the new Compton Family Center and a new era of Notre Dame hockey.