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Hockey: Team travels to Kansas City for opener

By Sam Gans | Thursday, October 11, 2012

More than seven months after a disappointing season concluded with a CCHA-tournament loss at Michigan, the No. 13 Irish hit the ice against the Black Bears of Maine in their season-opening contest Friday night.

The Irish will be one of four teams in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend. In addition to Notre Dame and Maine (0-1-0), Army and Nebraska-Omaha will participate.

The Irish have had less than a week of practice and played only one exhibition game, a 1-1 tie against the United States under-18 team Sunday. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the lack of practice time has hindered Notre Dame’s ability to prepare specifically for Maine, as the Irish are concerned primarily with themselves. However, the veteran Irish squad should adjust easier than previous years.

“With having so many juniors, and trying to integrate only four freshmen, they understand most of the system already,” Jackson said. “It’s just a matter of a quick refresher for them. So it’s probably more important to work on concepts than specific systems.”

A future Hockey East counterpart, Maine reached the NCAA tournament a year ago. Maine senior captain and forward Joey Diamond leads the Black Bears. Diamond tallied 47 points last season and was fourth in the NCAA in goals per game.

Unlike Notre Dame, Maine has played a regular season game already – a 2-1 loss to Quinnipiac on Saturday – in addition to an exhibition against New Brunswick on Sunday. Jackson said he does not expect Maine’s extra game to have a huge impact.

“It might [help Maine], having an extra game,” he said. “But it’s an extra day of practice they lost, too. So I think it works out the same, really. Maybe a little more of an advantage from a game conditioning standpoint, the competitive part of it, but it will be pretty much the same for everyone there.”

Jackson said the Irish will still be looking at different lineup possibilities – at both forward and defense – for the year as the season commences this weekend. There will already be one notable change in Friday’s roster with the return of junior left wing Jeff Costello, who missed Sunday’s exhibition to injury. Costello will push freshman Thomas DiPauli to center, which forces junior David Gerths to right wing.

Irish junior goaltender Steven Summerhays will get the start in net against Maine. Summerhays backed up senior Mike Johnson much of last season before solidifying the starting job in the season’s final six weeks.

Jackson said Summerhays’ play and consistency earned him an increased opportunity.

“Goaltending’s confidence based,” Jackson said. “Because I had a junior [last season] that I do have a lot of trust in in Mike Johnson, Mike got the opportunity to come back and play games even after a loss, which Steven didn’t get, and now he’s earned that, based on his performance in the second half of the year. He’s probably going to be able to play back-to-back games on a more regular basis.”

Jackson said he expects Johnson to play in one of the first four non-conference games to keep him fresh, though the coach is unsure at this point which game the senior will start.

The Irish play Maine in the opening game of the Ice Breaker Tournament at 7 p.m. on Friday in Kansas City, Mo. Notre Dame will face either Army or Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu