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Hockey: Irish hope to return to NCAAs

Sam Gans | Friday, August 17, 2012

The Irish look to return to the NCAA tournament this season after struggling through an up-and-down 2011-12 campaign.
Notre Dame began last season ranked No. 1 in the country after making the Frozen Four in 2010-2011. Despite roaring out to a 10-2-3 start, a 6-12 finish left the Irish out of the 16-team NCAA tournament field and in eighth place in the 11-team CCHA.

The Irish hope returning 10 of their top 13 scorers from a year ago will propel them into the national postseason. Leading that group are junior forwards T.J. Tynan
and Anders Lee. Tynan, a first team all-CCHA selection last season, has been Notre Dame’s leader in points each of the last two years, while Lee topped the Irish in goals in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

In addition to the returning lettermen, Notre Dame will welcome an incoming class of five freshmen, including NHL draft picks Mario Lucia, Steven Fogarty and Thomas DiPauli. Irish coach Jeff Jackson, entering his eighth season behind the bench for Notre Dame, said he is cautiously optimistic about the raw but talented rookies.

“You certainly hope that they’re going to make an impact, but they are freshmen and the adjustment to college hockey always takes a little time,” Jackson said. “But I think we’ve got four talented forwards and hopefully they’re going to be able to contribute and help our offensive depth, because I think that all four of them have shown the ability to be able to make plays and be a factor offensively.”

The Irish lose defenseman and captain Sean Lorenz to graduation but return their six other top defensemen from a year ago, led by senior Sam Calabrese.

Jackson said junior Steven Summerhays is in the driver’s seat for the starting goaltender position. Summerhays split playing time much of last season with then-junior Mike Johnson, but established himself as the No. 1 netminder for the Irish down the stretch. Summerhays started five of Notre Dame’s final six games, notching a .954 save percentage with seven goals allowed and two shutouts.

“I think the way Steven finished the year, it’s going to be his job to lose, but I also have confidence that Mike Johnson can pressure him and work towards trying to get playing time and prove that he’s capable, as well,” Jackson said. “If we have two guys who can play, it’s better for us, but based on the last six weeks of the season, I think Steven really elevated his game and if he shows that he can play on a consistent basis, he’s going to obviously give us a lot more confidence back there and I think that that’s a huge component towards the success of our team.”

The Irish will play their final season in the CCHA this year before the league disbands and the squad heads to the Hockey East conference in 2013-2014. The season’s marquee event will take place Feb. 17 when the Irish will face Miami in an outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“I’m sure it will be an exciting opportunity to play in that kind of a venue and in front of that kind of a crowd … it’s a league game, it’s in February and it’s in Chicago and it’s outdoors, so there’s all kinds of potential for different scenarios coming up, considering the weather potential,” Jackson said.

The Irish open the season against Maine on Oct. 12 in Kansas City, Mo.