Kelly: Second half to test ND (Dec. 11)
By Conor Kelly | Wednesday, December 11, 2013
When Notre Dame lined up against Merrimack on Nov. 15 in the first Hockey East matchup at the Compton Family Ice Arena, it felt like an odd debut in the storied conference for the Irish.
Coming from the recently disbanded CCHA, No. 13 Notre Dame lacks the regional ties that unite the rest of the members of Hockey East, though not the conference’s rich hockey pedigree. In a league whose member schools are all in New England, the Irish must travel 886 miles to reach Providence, their nearest conference rival, without a single player from the region on their roster
Still, early season matchups with the likes of Merrimack, Vermont, Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern and Massachusetts are hardly what Irish coach Jeff Jackson and athletic director Jack Swarbrick had in mind when they made the move to Hockey East. In all fairness to the aforementioned teams, who collectively have held the Irish to a 3-4-1 record in the first half of the season, good for a solid eighth in the conference, they lack the cachet of Notre Dame’s second-half opponents.
Hockey East teams have combined to win 12 total national championships and six of the last 15, with seven appearances in the title game over the same stretch. It is arguably the best and most storied league in college hockey. As a displaced New Englander who grew up attending games at the University of Maine and watching future NHL greats like Paul Kariya out on the ice, I was ecstatic to learn in 2011 that Notre Dame would be joining the conference.
But it wasn’t for November games against Merrimack.
The Irish will jump into their second half, New England and Hockey East with both feet Jan. 4 of the new year, as the team plays its second outdoor game in two seasons, this time against Boston College at Boston’s Fenway Park. Notre Dame will play in a series – “Frozen Fenway” – that will feature six Hockey East teams competing on perhaps the most hallowed ground in New England, a ballpark that recently witnessed a World Series championship for the beloved Boston Red Sox.
The game isn’t short on symbolism.
For the first time, Notre Dame will face Boston College, the most successful college hockey team in the last 10 years, not just as a fellow Catholic institution and elite opponent, but also as a conference foe. From there, the Irish will travel to away series at New Hampshire and Providence, while hosting Northeastern, Maine and Boston University. The regular season concludes with another trip to visit Boston College, this time on campus in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
These are the games that got Irish fans excited about the move east. Jackson has said repeatedly that he hopes to establish rivalries with Hockey East teams to replace the old foes Notre Dame left behind in the defunct CCHA, and the second half is when the Irish will make that happen.
Much like an outsider attending an intimate family gathering, the Irish have joined a league that is fiercely regional, historic and talented. They will have to fight for a seat at the table.
It should be a bucket of fun.
Contact Conor Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.