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Hockey: Dynamic duo represent ND

Jack Hefferon and Sam Gans | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Two of Notre Dame’s best skaters competed on a world stage over winter break, as sophomores T.J. Tynan and Stephen Johns represented Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Alberta, Canada. Tynan and Johns helped lead the United States to a seventh-place finish.

Johns and Tynan were invited to the USA training camp as two of the top 30 under-20 players in the country. They impressed enough coaches there to make the final 22-man roster and earned the right to represent their country against the likes of Finland and Canada, among others. Tynan in particular had an impressive showing for the team, scoring three points in six tournament games on the USA roster, plus adding a goal in one of the three exhibition games.

“I thought it was a great experience, playing against the top players in the world your age,” Tynan said. “It was great to be in Canada [and] great to see those fans doing their thing.”

Johns also turned in a solid performance with his usual physicality on the blueline, although he had a difficult time finding the scoresheet against the high level of competition, managing a goal and an assist for the national team in nine games.For Johns, a second round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks, the high level of play was hopefully just a taste of his future in hockey.

“Playing against the top players in the world your age, it was definitely an experience and an eye-opener, seeing what the future holds hopefully,” Johns said. “Playing against faster guys and better guys, it just makes you better as a player and as a person.”

After the somewhat disappointing seventh-place finish, Tynan and Johns returned to the Irish lineup, barely missing a beat. In their first game back against No. 3/5 Minnesota, Tynan scored Notre Dame’s first goal and Stephen Johns tallied a team-high six blocked shots as the Irish upset the Golden Gophers on the road.

“Obviously, the tournament didn’t go as well as we thought it would with Team USA, but I think we were both pretty excited to get back to all of our friends and missing the boys and stuff like that, and it was great to be back, especially when they were playing so well,” Tynan said. “I watched the highlights versus [Boston University] and they said they played great, and I was excited to be back and see how all the guys were playing … It was a big win for us and I was excited to get back.”

Since their return, Johns and Tynan have once again taken up the mantle of being two of the team’s most productive players. Tynan, a third round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets, currently leads the Irish in points and assists, and with a shooting percentage near 24 percent, is the team’s most efficient scorer. Johns has continued to be a gritty and physical sparkplug for the Irish defense, leading the team in blocked shots and penalty minutes.

Each also added a goal in Notre Dame’s 4-2 win at Alaska on Saturday.

There is no question the duo has continued to step up its game since returning from Canada, and Irish coach Jeff Jackson believes both are playing with chips on their shoulders after the result at the championships.

“I think T.J. he had kind of a secondary role on that team and I think he’s out to prove again; he’s always out to prove something to somebody,” Jackson said. “And I think that’s the way he’s playing right now … I think Stephen’s confidence was hurt a little bit in that environment and I think he’s played some really good games for us in the last couple of weeks.”

For Notre Dame, the team can only hope that its international representatives keep up their level of play, as they look to make a final push before the CCHA playoffs. The next step for the Irish will come this weekend as they host Bowling Green in a pair of key conference games.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu and Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu