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Hockey: Opening opportunities

Jack Hefferon | Friday, October 5, 2012

No. 10 Notre Dame will play an exhibition against the U.S. National Under-18 team on Sunday, which will serve as an early measuring stick and the team’s lone chance to compete before it opens the regular season next weekend.

With practice times severely restricted over the summer, the Irish value the exhibition as an important opportunity to work on their game against an unfamiliar opponent. With a schedule that includes five top-15 opponents in the first six weeks, working on systems and working out the kinks early on will be especially important for the team this year.

“This exhibition game is the first time we’ll get to work on a lot of game situations, like power play and penalty kill,” junior goaltender Steven Summerhays said. “So it’s definitely important.”

Sunday’s game will also be a first chance for freshmen and upperclassmen alike to make cases for starting roles and increased playing time. One of those players will be Summerhays, who will try to hold off senior Mike Johnson and keep his spot as Notre Dame’s top option between the pipes.

Both in goal, on the blue line and among the four forward lines, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he is excited to see which players jump out to fast starts and assert themselves in starting roles.

“I want to see in the first month who is going to start off on a positive note,” Jackson said. “We need to find out how ready these guys are, regardless of the kinds of seasons they had last year.”

There may be many unknowns surrounding Sunday’s opening game, but one thing is for sure: Notre Dame’s opponent will come out firing. The U.S. team is stacked with some of the nation’s best young talent, and includes future Irish forwards Dawson Cook and Kevin Labanc. Several current Notre Dame players are alumni of the U-18 team, including freshman center Thomas DiPauli, who played on the team last year and knows that the Irish should expect a battle on Sunday.

“I remember last year, and every time we played a college it was our absolute best game,” DiPauli said. “We went all out against colleges just to prove a point and upset them. I know they’re going to come out flying, especially because they have a few guys committed here. They’re going to be throwing the body and skating hard, so we’ll have to match their intensity. It’s going to be a good game.”

While the final outcome of the exhibition may not matter in Notre Dame’s quest to return to the Frozen Four, Jackson believes that his team’s performance in these early games will be a crucial indicator of this season’s potential.

“You know right away what the chemistry of your team is,” Jackson said. “You know right within the first two or three days. Within those first three games…we’ll probably have a pretty good indication of guys who are in the right frame of mind to have a great season.”

The Irish will drop the puck on their 2012 campaign at 5:05 p.m. Sunday night in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu