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Hockey: Banner year for Irish brings in strong recruiting class

Kyle Cassily and Dan Murphy | Friday, August 24, 2007

Notre Dame’s name splays across a boldly-lettered banner that hangs high over the ice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit now, and it has a twin above the sheet in the Joyce Center as well – matching monuments to the team’s first league championship.Banners are new to Notre Dame’s hockey rink, but they aren’t to head coach Jeff Jackson, who has three national championships at Lake Superior State. In just two years he and his staff have transformed the Irish from an average to subpar program into a national powerhouse, and he did it with none of his own recruits.That changes this year when the Class of 2011 walks onto campus. The seven incoming freshmen have been called the best recruiting class in the nation – a more than solid addition to an Irish team that lost eight seniors, four of which have signed pro contracts.”This is going to be my first go-around. This is really our first class together as a staff,” Jackson said.Four of the freshmen were selected in the NHL Draft in June, and two will come from Stockholm, Sweden.”From a talent perspective this is probably as good as class we ever had at Lake Superior,” Jackson said. “The one difference we have is that they are younger.”The biggest single loss for the Irish from last season was the graduation of goaltender Dave Brown, who amassed numerous school records and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.There are two frontrunners to replace Brown between the pipes – junior Jordan Pearce and freshman Brad Phillips – but Jackson isn’t quick to give the starting job to either netminder and may continue that way well into the season.”It’s too early for me to say,” Jackson said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Jordan Pearce. He’s going to come in here and compete to take that No. 1 spot, but we recruited Brad Phillips for a reason. I assume that I’ll probably do exactly what I did two years ago when I started here. I’m going to play a couple guys early on.”Pearce platooned in the net with Brown two years ago as a freshman before Brown proved that he was capable of starting for the Irish every night. Since then, Pearce has received spot starts and spelled Brown in several mid-season games.Phillips was a prize grab for Jackson and his staff in the recruiting season. He was the highest-rated North American goaltender among collegiate-bound players and was selected in the seventh round of the NHL draft in June by the Philadelphia Flyers.To prepare for life at Notre Dame as a student-athlete, Phillips enrolled at the University this summer to take classes and work out, adding eight pounds to his 160-pound frame.”I can’t watch him in the weight room or on the ice, but I hear the guys said he did really well,” Jackson said.Regardless of who ends up in net, he will have plenty of help from his defensemen. Despite losing three veteran players on the blue line, Jackson believes his team will be grittier on defense than last year’s No. 1 ranked unit in the nation. The Irish added two top prospects in Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth. Cole was drafted in the first round, 18th overall, by the St. Louis Blues, making him the highest picked Notre Dame player in program history. “They’re both big strong kids. They’re going to really make a difference for us, especially clearing out our net.” Jackson said.Jackson plans to pair the two freshmen with more experienced players, most likely senior Brock Sheahan and sophomore Kyle Lawson.The Irish also add depth on the offensive end with Swedish recruits Robin Bergman and Calle Ridderwall out of Stockholm and Ben Ryan out of the United States Hockey League. Nashville selected Ryan in the fourth round of June’s draft.The international trio will supplement the “little guy” line of junior Erik Condra and sophomores Ryan Thang and Kevin Deeth, who produced most of Notre Dame’s goals last season.Jackson wasn’t ready to say whether this year’s team will be better than last’s.”It will be more talented, but better is a different word,” Jackson said. “I can’t give you the answer to that question yet.”