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Irish Hockey Insider: Freshmen battle to replicate Condra’s impact

Dan Murphy | Friday, November 10, 2006

Sophomore center Erik Condra ran away with last year’s Irish rookie of the year award by leading all players with 34 points, but this year’s competition should be a little stiffer.

This year’s freshman class is stocked with talent and the eight rookies in the class are wasting no time in proving themselves. The group has been responsible for 11 of Notre Dame’s first 24 goals this season. Three have seen the ice in all eight of the Irish games this season and two more have played in four games.

Conrda’s two linemates – Kevin Deeth and Ryan Thang, both freshmen – have been a big part of the team’s early success.

“They’re both talented, smart players, so it’s easy to play with guys like that,” Condra said. “They’ve come and made an impact right away.”

Deeth is currently second on the team in goals (four) and points (eight). The Washington state native is undersized at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds, but he makes up for it with his speed and playmaking ability. He spent one year playing for the Green Bay Gamblers before coming to Notre Dame this summer. He finished that season 12th in the United States Hockey League (USHL) in points and 22nd in goals scored.

Thang also spent time in the USHL, with the Sioux City Stampede and the Omaha Lancers. Last season the power forward split time between the clubs and finished with 54 points and a plus/minus ratio of +34.

“A lot of us played against each other last year – had some good battles with one another – so we were pretty familiar with each other and it’s worked out well,” Deeth said.

Both players had breakout games in the win over then-No. 1 Boston College. Deeth had two of the team’s seven goals and his fellow winger added a goal and two assists.

The following night, freshman Dan Kissel got a taste of the action when he registered his first college goals with a hat trick in a 6-1 win over Providence. The rookie became the first Irish freshman to complete the feat since Chad Chipchase scored three times against Ferris State on Nov. 22, 1997.

Kissel, who was not heavily recruited out of high school, was a late signing for Jackson. He came on strong in the first four games of the year but hasn’t played since due to an injury.

“He had a lot of jump in his stride, was skating hard and then boom he was gone,” Jackson said. “He teased us a little bit.”

The team expects Kissel to be ready for action this weekend against Bowling Green.

The Irish defensive unit also features two freshmen who join a strong veteran group on the blue line. Kyle Lawson, the youngest member of Notre Dame’s defensive squad, signed with the team in the spring of 2004. From his position at the point, Lawson has assisted on two goals and gotten off six shots while playing regularly in every game this season.

Although he is a rookie, Lawson played for the highly touted Honeybaked AAA program and the U.S. Under-18 National Team two seasons ago, gaining valuable experience at an elite level. The Under-18s won a gold medal in the Czech Republic with Lawson as their alternate captain.

Brett Blatchford, who has appeared in four games thus far, has added two assists in his freshman campaign. Blatchford also brings leadership experience, as he captained the NAHL’s Texas Tornado for two seasons and in 2005-06 led the league’s defensemen in scoring with 49 points.

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about [the freshmen],” captain T.J. Jindra said. “Not just because how they’ve played on the ice, but also how they’ve done when we are off the ice.”

Goaltender Tom O’Brien, defenseman Stewart Collins and winger Christiaan Minella round out the class.

The group’s speed and enthusiasm has added a lot of depth to the Irish lineup and has also provided a spark on the offensive side that has the team scoring almost four goals a game.

As for who will take this season’s rookie of the year, there is still a lot to be decided, and the reigning winner is not quite ready to let any freshman take over his spot.

“There [are] a couple guys that are up, they’ve got a big competition for it this year so it should be interesting.” Condra said.