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Hockey: ND wins 4-0 in exhibition

Sam Gans | Monday, October 3, 2011

Both action and inaction led to a busy Sunday night for the top-ranked Irish. Notre Dame earned a 4-0 victory over Western Ontario in its only exhibition game of the season, and announced the date of the first game in the nearly-finished Compton Family Ice Arena. Meanwhile, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) released a statement that clarifies Notre Dame’s conference future, though the Irish have not made a move yet.

Notre Dame had indicated previously its final two conference choices following the disbanding of the CCHA after 2012-2013 were the newly-formed NCHC and Hockey East. The NCHC released a statement Sunday indicating it would begin play in 2013-2014 with only the eight teams already committed. It now appears the Irish will choose Hockey East.

Notre Dame has not issued a press release on its conference choice and an announcement isn’t expected until Wednesday. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the Irish have not made anything official.

“I don’t think there’s an announcement yet,” Jackson said. “I don’t think anything’s been confirmed or done officially, so we’re just kind of waiting. I have to wait until I hear what my bosses say.”

Whether the Irish become a member of Hockey East or not, Jackson believes Irish fans will be pleased with the final result, despite the long wait.

“I wanted [the conference selection] out of the way before the start of the season, more for our team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s important to know what you’re doing from a recruiting perspective. But I know what [Director of Athletics] Jack Swarbrick and [Senior Associate Athletics Director] Tom Nevala have been doing. Maybe everybody else doesn’t. And the reason why it’s taking so long … people are going to have a pretty good understanding why it took a little bit longer, because of how much it’s going to have an impact on our program.”

While the Irish did not announce anything on the conference front, they did make known the opening date of the brand new state-of-the-art Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame will begin play in its new home Oct. 21 with a game against the Rensselaer (RPI) Engineers at 7:05 p.m.

Though there was a lot of buzz off the ice, the Irish also returned to action for the first time in nearly six months with a win over the Mustangs.

Notre Dame got off to a strong start in the first period with a 12-2 shot advantage after the first 20 minutes. But the Irish couldn’t get a tally on the scoreboard until 6:11 into the second period when sophomore forward Anders Lee released a one-timer over the shoulder of Western Ontario goaltender Josh Unice off a feed from sophomore center T.J. Tynan.

Lee’s goal was on the power play, and the Irish finished the night a strong 2-for-8 with the extra-man advantage, an encouraging sign after poor special teams play much of last season. The Irish played around with multiple combinations and units in an attempt to find a formula for success.

“It’s tryout time, in my opinion, because our power play and our penalty killing both struggled in the second half last year,” Jackson said. “So we want to get an opportunity to take a look at some guys that didn’t get on the power play or penalty kill last year. There was some good things, some positives.”

Starting junior goaltender Mike Johnson and backup sophomore Steven Summerhays combined for a shutout as each played about half the contest. Jackson was pleased with the play of both netminders.

“We need competition in that spot,” he said. “I thought Mike played well. Sometimes it’s tougher to play when you only face a few shots, but Steven came in and [played well], so that’s good for us. If he can play well, I’m happy to have two goaltenders who can play. And I’m not afraid, as long as they play consistent, going with two guys for a little while.”

The Irish were missing two key contributors from last year’s Frozen Four squad. Junior center Riley Sheahan was a healthy scratch as Jackson wanted to get a look at other players at the center position. Sheahan is expected back in the lineup this weekend. Sophomore left wing Jeff Costello was also held out with an upper-body injury, which Jackson said he believes to be minor.

Notre Dame opens its season Friday with a rematch against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth at 8:07 p.m. The Bulldogs knocked Notre Dame out in the national semifinals last season.

Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]