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Hockey: Costello embraces role as captain

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, December 4, 2013

 

A captain is expected to lead his teammates in many ways, from the ice to the locker room. But that leadership usually doesn’t include leading the team in penalty minutes as well.

Irish senior left winger Jeff Costello, though, is not your usual captain.

A Milwaukee native, Costello came in as a member of one of Notre Dame’s largest freshman classes ever and has made a literal impact in every game since. When he’s on his game, Costello is an opponent’s worst nightmare, a power forward who can lay hits in open ice, carve out space in front of the crease and grind for pucks in the corners. His scrappy play often extends after the whistle, where he never hesitates to defend a teammate by diving into a scrum.

Costello may not play with the finesse of those who often don the “C” on their chest, but according to his Irish teammates, their captain is the unquestionable heart of the team.

“It’s nice to have someone else out there that you know for sure has your back, no matter what,” Irish senior defenseman Stephen Johns said. “[Costello] is probably the most intense guy I’ve ever played with. He gets the guys going on the bench. He’s always chirping and telling guys what they need to do. He’s always positive during games. He’s a great captain, and he’s filled Anders’s spot with a lot of character and a lot of grit.”

With that type of reputation among his teammates, it wasn’t a surprise inside the team when Irish coach Jeff Jackson selected Costello to serve as team captain this season. But it has been different. In years past, Costello wasn’t shy about voicing his concerns to the officials during the game and trying to unnerve opponents with his pestering play. Now, as the captain, Costello has to serve as the team’s liaison to the officials – even though his 12 trips to the penalty box still lead the team.

“Jeff wears his passion on his sleeve, and the only time he takes penalties that may look questionable after the whistle is if someone took liberties with a teammate,” Jackson said. “Sticking up for a teammate is the one instance in which I let our guys retaliate.”

Still, Costello’s newfound role has taught him to pick his spots more, to avoid taking himself out of the game and putting his team at a disadvantage.

“I’ve had to choose my moments more,” Costello said. “Obviously, I play with a lot of emotion and can really get into the game and be intense. I think that can be really beneficial if you’re a leader on a team and you spark your teammates, but at the same time, you have to really watch that you don’t get out of control.”

Costello plays a loud game on the ice, but that doesn’t follow him into the locker room. With nine other senior leaders on the roster, Costello said he prefers to let other teammates handle the big speeches, and instead, let his play speak for itself.

“I’m mostly a lead-by-example kind of guy,” he said. “We have an older team, so we have a bunch of leaders on the team that cover talking in the locker room. I’ve always respected guys that lead by example, because they’re out there walking the walk, and that’s how I’ve tried to approach it.”

And in times like this, the Irish need their intense captain more than ever. Notre Dame will host Massachusetts for its last series before a four-week break, after managing just two wins in its last seven contests. Now that he’s settled into his role, Costello has made it his mission to get his guys ready to close out the year with two more wins.

“When I first [was named captain], I was kind of concerned with setting the tone for our standards and our culture of Notre Dame hockey for the younger guys,” he said. “Especially in times like this, where we aren’t winning too many games, I’ve been trying to keep guys upbeat and still excited to play every weekend.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu