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Hockey: Squad ready to emerge from early tests

Conor Kelly | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

During Notre Dame’s skid in the second half of the 2011-2012 season, the Irish, among other issues, failed to score enough goals to take advantage of the emergence of then-sophomore goaltender Steven Summerhays. Junior forwards T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee finished with 41 and 43 points, respectively, to lead the team.

The pair, playing on the same line with Tynan centering, put up some of the best numbers in the CCHA, but the Irish at times struggled to find secondary scoring, and the team’s record suffered.

After the season, Notre Dame lost its third and fourth leading scorers, forward Billy Maday to graduation and forward Riley Sheahan to the NHL, and questions about how coach Jeff Jackson would replace and augment last year’s production abounded. The first big step Jackson made towards that end was to separate Lee and Tynan, moving Lee to center and Tynan to the team’s second line. In an effort to find some scoring depth and eliminate the need to play multiple freshmen centers, Lee switched to a position that he last played in junior hockey. The move hasn’t slowed down the Minnesota native, as he has recorded eight goals and five assists in 13 games.

“It’s good. It’s been fun,” Lee said of his move from the wing. “It’s something that comes naturally to me, something that I’ve been doing my whole life. It’s a matter of finding a position where I can help this team out.”

After Lee and Tynan, Jackson stressed the importance of getting production from Notre Dame’s flight of juniors, which has played a key role for the Irish ever since entering as a freshmen class of 12 in 2010.

“Certainly we have two of the best offensive players in the country, but I feel that we have more than that,” Jackson said. “It’s going to take a complete year from guys like Jeff Costello, Mike Voran and Bryan Rust. Their motivation is going to be to have a much better year from a production standpoint.”

Rust has benefited from his move to Lee’s line, recording eight points on the year, but it has been the emergence of Costello as an offensive threat that has made the line particularly dangerous. The junior is second on the team in points behind Lee and has energized the squad with his goal-scoring touch and physical presence after his return from injury last month. His two third-period goals against North Dakota on Saturday – giving him five on the year in just ten games – put the game away for the Irish.

“He makes us a more confident team,” Jackson said of Costello. “He and [junior Stephen] Johns are two very important guys for us as far as keeping everybody honest. As long as they keep it clean and don’t take unnecessary penalties, it’s great.”

Another emerging scoring threat has been sophomore defenseman Robbie Russo who leads the team with three power play goals and has recorded nine points on the season. Playing with Lee, Tynan and freshman Mario Lucia on the man advantage has helped Russo to flourish at the point.

The return of Lucia from a broken leg that kept him out the first six weeks of the season gives the Irish yet another goal scorer as the freshman found the net in his first game back.

Even with Tynan in a scoring slump to begin the year, the Irish have shown that they pack far more punch than just one line. While the Irish have yet to consistently put up goals in bunches, the offense has managed to progress as the year moves into winter.

Contact Conor Kelly at [email protected]