Notre Dame hits the ice for first time in home exhibition
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, September 30, 2016
The calendar has yet to flip to October, but head coach Jeff Jackson’s team is already giving him headaches.
Well, specifically junior forward Bo Brauer, who accidentally sent a puck over the glass during Thursday’s practice. The projectile connected with his coach’s head as Jackson bent down to pick up his clipboard.
“That’s what I get for standing up in the stands up at the top of the concourse with an overhang,” Jackson joked as he settled into the team’s auditorium for his preseason press conference following practice Thursday. “I mean what are the odds? I’m on the ice every day and then that happens.”
So how does he feel about his team so far?
“Well, I’m pissed at them right now,” Jackson said, chuckling a bit.
Hard to blame him, but Jackson also said he has plenty of reasons to smile as the ninth-ranked Irish prepare for their season-opening exhibition game at 5:05 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Compton Family Ice Arena against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U-18 squad.
“I’m excited. We said it last year, I’ll say it again: We’ve got a young group,” Jackson said. “ … It’s a lot of young guys, but from first appearances … I think we’re faster.”
Junior goaltender Cal Petersen will once again backstop the Irish in net after starting all 37 games last season, going 19-11-7 and compiling a .927 save percentage while allowing just 2.20 goals per game.
While Petersen is a familiar face in net, this time around there will be a new addition to his uniform: the captain’s ‘C.’
Giving the captaincy to a goaltender is an unusual move in hockey’s upper levels, but Jackson said Petersen’s temperament made him the top choice to lead Notre Dame through its final year in Hockey East.
“I felt that Cal best represented every aspect of what we do: academically, in the social environment and then athletically,” Jackson said. “He’s probably as respected as any player on our team, and he’s probably as good a communicator as anybody on our team.
“ … He’s unique in being a goaltender because he’s like one of the boys, and that isn’t always the case with goalies. They’re sometimes a little different, like me. They sometimes can be isolated, they can be a little free-spirited. We’ve had a little bit of everything with goaltenders here, and he’s probably more just one of the boys than anybody else.”
Jackson also said Petersen has a very similar temperament to former captain Steven Fogarty, who graduated in May after leading the Irish for two years.
Petersen said he’s only heard of one other goalie that’s worn the ‘C:’ Jeff Lerg, who captained Michigan State during the 2008-2009 season.
“I’ve heard [Jackson] mention Jeff Lerg as the only guy that came to his mind. I didn’t really know,” Petersen said. “Obviously it’s kind of a unique situation, [I’m] going to take it day-by-day and see the new challenges that come up, but it’s exciting and obviously I was very honored to be given that position.”
Petersen will be joined by his classmates forwards Anders Bjork and Jake Evans and defenseman Luke Ripley, all of whom will serve as assistant captains this season. Jackson said Petersen’s role as captain will stop when he steps on the ice so he can focus on being the goaltender, a thought Petersen echoed.
“I’m just going to go into it with the same mentality I’ve had the last two years,” Petersen said of his on-ice approach. “Obviously wearing the ‘C,’ it adds a little bit more responsibility, but that’s the great thing about having three other really good captains who are going to be able to take over that on-ice role.
“For me, I think just being a goaltender and having to be steady kind of already puts you in that role.”
After missing the NCAA tournament following the 2014-2015 campaign, the Irish returned to the postseason last year, falling in the first round to rival Michigan in overtime in one of the best college hockey games of the 2015-2016 season. The loss marked the last time five of last year’s seniors put on the Notre Dame uniform, a group that Jackson praised all season for their ability as leaders.
While the Irish will miss the production of that group, including leading goal-scorer Thomas DiPauli, they have just two seniors on the roster this year — backup goalie Chad Katunar and forward Ben Ostlie — following the offseason departure of defenseman Justin Wade, on which Jackson declined to comment.
Wade’s departure impacts more than just the Irish leadership. Last season Jackson often praised his defensive abilities, and Wade’s size made him a formidable defensive force. Combined with the graduation of Andy Ryan, the Notre Dame defense lost a lot of size compared to last season.
“Personally I think I need to fill in for those guys by being physical,” Ripley said. “Couple other guys like [sophomore defenseman] Dennis Gilbert’s going to have to come in with me and bring physicality, but we’re going to be a much faster [defense] core this year. … We’re coming in real fast. Up front we’re real fast but especially on the back end you can feel the speed we have this year.”
Jackson was similarly optimistic.
“I like our defense. I think we’re more mobile,” Jackson said. “ … We’ve replaced two big guys who maybe didn’t move as well as the two guys who are coming in, and I think both [freshmen defensemen Andrew Peeke and Tory Dello] have good instincts, so our defense is deep and it’s going to be pretty good.”
Jackson also highlighted junior defenseman Tony Bretzman as a player who has really impressed in fall camp and will be pushing for more minutes this season.
The Irish welcome eight freshmen to the program this year, including Peeke and forward Cam Morrison, both of whom were selected in the second round of this year’s NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche, respectively.
Evans, one of the assistant captains, said the freshmen have integrated well, but he emphasized that from what he’s seen of the team’s summer golf outings, the freshmen should stick to hockey sticks, not golf clubs.
“They’re all pretty bad [at golf],” Evans quipped.
Asked who the best golfer on the team was, though, Evans answered without hesitation. Although his coach had left the room already, one can imagine Jackson flinching at Evans’ response: Bo Brauer.
Brauer was certainly on top of his wedge game Thursday.