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Hockey: Compton, Captains, Conferences

Sam Gans | Monday, September 26, 2011

Though the Irish do not begin practice until Saturday, the 2011-2012 season got off to an unofficial start yesterday with media day.

On a day in which Irish coach Jeff Jackson named his captains and the team skated in the brand new Compton Family Ice Arena’s rink for the first time, perhaps the biggest news was no news.

Notre Dame has still not announced its plans for conference affiliation after the CCHA disbands following the 2012-2013 season. The Irish have offers from both Hockey East and the newly created National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

Hockey East has 10 teams, including Merrimack and New Hampshire, both of whom Notre Dame defeated on the way to the Frozen Four last season, and national powers Boston College and Boston University.

The NCHC currently consists of eight members, including defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, current CCHA rival Miami and North Dakota and Denver, the latter two of which have a combined 14 national championships.

Jackson, who stated the Irish will not pursue independence, did not announce if Notre Dame has a preference toward either conference, but did say he sees both as a potentially good fit.

“I don’t think we can go wrong,” Jackson said. “The most important thing is that we put ourselves in position to recruit and we put ourselves in position to compete against the best teams in the country, and put ourselves in position to play in front of big crowds in great buildings every night. And I think that exists in both conferences.”

Part of the reason for the ongoing delay in choosing a conference was Notre Dame’s desire to limit conference breakups as much as possible, Jackson indicated. The Irish were also concerned about television packages.

“What people have to understand is that there was a lot of complications behind the scenes as far as putting things in place for us to be in a great conference, and the potential to really magnify our program on television,” Jackson said. “I know that the majority of our issues regarding television are now resolved, and now it’s just a matter of getting clearance from the conferences that we’re looking at to move forward. And I would expect that it will be resolved here in the next few days.”

While Notre Dame is hoping to have its conference choice finalized soon, it is also nearing the completion of construction of the Compton Family Ice Arena, the team’s state-of-the-art hockey facility, which is scheduled to open in late October or early November. With the rink now in place, the Irish were able to conduct an open skate on their new home ice for the first time yesterday.

Although playing in a new arena is an exciting change for the Irish, they realize the importance of maintaining focus on the game itself, especially as they begin their home slate in the Joyce Center.

“We’re all really excited,” junior goaltender Mike Johnson said. “[But] we have talked about the distraction factor ⎯ there’s no way it’s not going to be a distraction. So we need to remember although it is really cool and exciting to get a new arena, [we need] to worry about the first few weeks before we’re even in there because they’re coming around just as quickly.”

With the talk of conference realignment and the new arena, the announcement that could most directly impact the Irish on the ice in 2011-2012 was a bit overshadowed. Senior defenseman Sean Lorenz and senior forward Billy Maday were named co-captains by Jackson, while sophomore forward Anders Lee earned the role of alternate captain for the season.

Lorenz, who led the CCHA in plus-minus rating last season at +33, said the added dynamic of off-ice leadership will increase his role on the team even further.

“It’s going to add a little bit more [pressure],” he said. “You’ve got a little bit more responsibility [and] a little more pressure to make sure guys are keeping focused, keeping levelheaded.”

Maday is also looking forward to having more of an impact in the locker room.”I’m not only representing myself, but the program, and I have to lead certain players in the right direction to make sure we continue on the right path as a team and reach our goals,” Maday said. “I’m willing to take on that challenge.”

The Irish open exhibition play against Western Ontario on Oct. 2, followed by the season-opening series at Minnesota-Duluth from Oct. 7 to 8. The home opener is Oct. 14 against Ohio State in the Joyce Center.