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Hockey: Icers picked to finish near top of conference

Sam Werner | Thursday, October 2, 2008

After edging out Michigan in last year’s national semifinals, Notre Dame finds itself knotted with the rival Wolverines atop the CCHA preseason polls, which were announced at Tuesday’s CCHA Media Day in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Irish took the top spot in the coach’s poll, with 128 points and eight first-place votes. Michigan ranked a close second, with 122 points and three first-place votes.

It was a different story in the media poll, though, with the Wolverines topping the rankings with 945 points and 43 first-place votes. The Irish were No. 2, earning 915 points and 35 first-place votes.

Either way, the Irish are certainly one of the top dogs in the CCHA.

“It’s always nice to get ranked high, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning at this point,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “It just speaks for how we finished the season last year and the group of guys we’ve got coming back.”

Michigan State, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Michigan rounded out the top five, albeit in a different order in each poll.

This year marked the first time the Irish were picked No. 1 in either CCHA preseason poll, but captain Erik Condra said he knows the team has a long way to go to make good on their ranking.

“The CCHA is so tight, you never know who’s going to come out and be the lead dog in the race,” Condra said. “Some teams are picked first in the league in the beginning and they end up in the bottom six.”

Last year, Notre Dame was ranked third in both preseason polls. The Irish finished fourth, but mainly because of a red-hot start, as the team struggled during the middle part of the season.

“Being ranked that high, there’s always a target on your chest,” Condra said. “Teams aren’t going to take you lightly and we saw that in the middle of last year.”

Jackson named Condra team captain Monday, along with alternates Christian Hanson, Ryan Thang and Kyle Lawson. A senior right wing from Livonia, Mich., Condra led the Irish in scoring in each of his three years with the team. Last year, he tallied 38 points despite missing the last six games of the season with a knee injury.

“Erik is very well-respected, and he’s very well-liked,” Jackson said. “That’s a very good combination for a captain, especially when he’s your top player.”

Condra was just honored to follow in the tradition of great Notre Dame captains.

“The Notre Dame hockey program’s come through a lot,” Condra said. “And I’ve had two great captains before me, with T.J. Jindra, who sort of set the precedent for where we are today, and Mark Van Guilder, who’s just a great guy on and off the ice.

“It’s easy learning from those guys who were just such great captains before.”

Condra was also named to the 2008 All-CCHA first team, though he’d like to get on the ice to earn his accolades.

“Those are just preseason,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t played hockey in six months.”

Lawson, a junior defenseman, also earned all-conference first-team honors for the second consecutive year.

“Kyle Lawson is a guy that plays passionately,” Jackson said. “He’s a passionate kid that cares about people, cares about this program, and wears his heart on his sleeve.”

Condra admired his Lawson’s ability to stand up for his teammates when things get rough.

“He’s intense,” Condra said. “He’s willing to start some conflict up if things are going awry. He’s right there to step in.”

Hanson, a senior center, came on at the end of last season for the Irish, a trend Jackson hopes Hanson continues in the new campaign. Condra said Hanson’s affability is a good quality to have in an alternate captain.

“He’s buddies with everybody,” Condra said. “He knows everybody. He’s a guy that can be friendly with everyone and talk to everybody and works hard on the ice.”

Thang, a junior right wing, is one of Notre Dame’s big scoring threats after leading the team with 18 goals last year.

“Ryan Thang is a good guy to follow in terms of his approach to detail,” Jackson said. “And in terms of his training, his conditioning, and his work ethic.”

Condra echoed his coach in praising the hard-working Thang.

“Thang’s just a workhorse,” Condra said “He’s a guy that pushes everybody to go harder and move on to the next level. He just shows the younger guys how hard you have to work.”

The Irish drop the puck for the first time on Oct. 11 against the University of Denver in the Hall of Game in Denver.