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Hockey: Guentzel leads on the ice

Chris Allen | Wednesday, December 8, 2010

After a subpar 2009 season, No. 12 Notre Dame has gotten off to a strong start to the 2010 campaign against a difficult schedule. The winning atmosphere around the program means that things are back to normal for senior right wing Ryan Guentzel. Success on the ice is in the Minnesota native’s blood.

Before he stepped foot on campus, Guentzel had already been immersed in winning for years. His father Mike has been involved in collegiate and youth hockey for years as one of the top assistant coaches in Division I hockey. He guided Minnesota to the National Championship in 2001 and 2002 and earned five trips to the Frozen Four during his decade-plus behind the bench for the Golden Gophers. Ryan said the time around his father’s teams gave him a winning philosophy.

“I think I bring in some winning experience,” Guentzel said. “I won a National Championship in juniors. My dad won a couple of National Championships coaching Division I hockey, too, so I’ve been around some teams where they’ve had success. I’ve just been trying to bring those philosophies into this year’s team.”

Guentzel’s big-picture leadership has been essential on this year’s Irish team, as a cast of twelve freshmen has been molded into a cohesive unit that sits second in the CCHA standings with 26 points in 12 league games.

“I think with only four seniors, we’ve got to be tight-knit with so many young freshmen. We’ve got to be role models,” Guentzel said. “We’ve got no problems with each other, we all live together. We’ve been through some ups — the National Championship game — and some lows like last year. We’ve been through it all, and with that experience I think it helps us lead this team.”

The maturation of those freshmen — center T.J. Tynan and wings Anders Lee and Mike Voran, to name a few — have enabled Guentzel to see considerable ice time with fellow seniors Ben Ryan and Calle Ridderwall. The line has turned in huge numbers, and for Guentzel the early-season statistics are right in line with his reputation as a smart and creative playmaker, with his team-leading 15 assists and three goals, which puts him second on the team in points behind Tynan.

“I like to make plays, I like to set people up,” Guentzel said.

“Playing the last three years, [Ben Ryan and I] played a lot on the ice together. We kind of know where each other are and I mean that makes the game easier, if you know where each other are going to be. We can make more plays.”

Guentzel and the rest of the Irish will be in action against Northern Michigan for a weekend series at the Joyce Center this Friday and Saturday. While the Wildcats may not carry the same reputation as recent opponents Miami and North Dakota, the senior said that Northern Michigan could not be underestimated.

“It’s not the same name, but obviously, they’re right behind us in the standings,” Guentzel said. “They just crept into the top 20 in the nation, so, with finals coming up and a lot of young freshmen around who haven’t been here during finals time, it’s just kind of keeping them focused on the task at hand. Just trying to get through this last week and then when it comes to Saturday, making sure that we’re into the game and then going from there.”