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Hockey: Veteran Calabrese anchors the Irish defense

Sam Gans | Thursday, January 17, 2013

In the two seasons preceding the 2012-2013 campaign, Irish senior defenseman Sam Calabrese played a significant role for Notre Dame, racking up top minutes and scoring a total of 34 points with a +14 rating in 82 games.

His role has expanded this year, however, as the lone senior on No. 5 Notre Dame’s blueline. Calabrese said one of his biggest strengths is an ability to stay calm in tense situations, a skill he tries to use to impact younger teammates.

“I try to be the backbone back there, and not be the voice of reason, but I’ve been in a lot of situations and as we approach the second half here, I’m going to try to keep everyone looking on the next game and not trying to look too far ahead, just try to keep everyone focused on the process. … Just being here for four years, you realize that each day, you have to come to the rink and prepare for your next game,” Calabrese said Monday. “You can’t look too far ahead, so being the veteran I am back there and the only senior, I think it’s my job to make sure everyone’s focused on the right things and the right goals, which are day-to-day getting better.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson shared the same sentiments about Calabrese’s play.

“[Calabrese is] a very calm kid and he plays the game that way,” Jackson said Monday. “As a senior, I think he’s done a good job in a leadership role, and I think his demeanor helps us in those chaotic times that we face during games, and even potentially during the season, just because he’s probably more mature, he’s been through this now for four years, and I think that experience of the highs and the lows, he’s probably able to handle as well as anyone.

“So I think it’s a quiet and calm confidence in him, but he does do a good job with his teammates and I think he does a real good job in his approach to not just the game, but situations within the game that are sometimes stressful.”

Calabrese has scored nine times in his career. Though he has yet to light the lamp this season, his nine assists on the season have contributed to the success the Irish (15-7-0, 11-3-0-0 CCHA) have achieved thus far. Calabrese notched an assist on the lone goal scored by junior center T.J. Tynan on the power play in a 1-0 win at Michigan State last Friday and another in a 4-2 loss at Bowling Green on Tuesday.

“I think being poised with the puck [is the biggest improvement I've made this season],” Calabrese said. “I think making better puck decisions and helping out on the power play here – I didn’t get on the power play until the end of the year last year – just being able to contribute that way.”

Last season, the Irish went 12-6-3 in 2011 before going 7-12-0 in 2012 for a final season record of 19-18-3 and no NCAA tournament appearance. This season, the Irish were 14-4-0 in 2012, but have dropped three of their first four games since the turn of the calendar after a three-and-a-half week layoff.

Calabrese said Monday, before the team’s most recent loss to the Falcons on Tuesday, the Irish learned from last season’s late fade.

“I think we learned a lot from last year,” he said. “I think this year, our mindset’s a lot different at this point in time than it was last year. Our past three games since break have all been on the road. In the past three years, we’ve had a game at home to kind of be a tune-up game to be prepared for a road stretch. Any time you play college hockey, it’s tough to win on the road, so we’re not panicking. Everyone’s positive. But that is in the back of our minds, what happened last year.”

Calabrese and the rest of the Irish next hit the ice Friday, when they’ll take on Alaska in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu