Hockey: DiPauli, Johnson scheduled to return
By Casey Karnes | Friday, December 6, 2013
No. 11 Notre Dame will look to head into Christmas break with a pair of home victories when Massachusetts visits Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend.
The Irish (9-6-1, 2-3-1 Hockey East) will be bolstered in their final series of the semester by the returns of sophomore center Thomas DiPauli and junior defenseman Eric Johnson, who have been held to six and eight games respectively this season by shoulder injuries, and senior forward Mike Voran from a lower body injury.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he also hopes freshman center Vince Hinostroza, Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer this season despite only playing 10 games, will be able to return from a knee injury, although the freshman is still questionable heading into the weekend.
According to Johnson, the recovering players can’t wait to get back on the ice.
“Practice this week has been really high tempo,” Johnson said. “It’s been fun just to be back on the ice with everyone. You can tell there’s a little bit different energy now that there’s a lot more guys back. It almost seems like [the chemistry] hasn’t missed a beat.”
Their return couldn’t come at a better time for the Irish, who stumbled to a sub-.500 record in November. Notre Dame won just one of its past five games, including a 3-2 loss to Northeastern in the final of the Shillelagh Tournament at Compton on Saturday. After such a rough stretch, Jackson said he was looking forward to the added line of flexibility provided by the returning offensive weapons.
“We’re anxious to get some guys back, just to try and create some offense, frankly,” Jackson said. “Also, to enhance our penalty kill, our special teams, to utilize more guys.”
But Jackson also said he expects the returnees to have a readjustment period.
“Ideally, it’ll be much better when we come back from Christmas break, and we actually have time to get down and dirty with getting them back into the mix of things, because it’s the competitive aspect of the game that they’re going to be behind in,” he said. “It’s okay to practice, but the [competition] level in a game is probably a little bit higher.”
The Irish will be able to claim a winning conference record if they sweep the Minutemen (3-10-2, 1-6-2) this weekend. Massachusetts has been in a free fall of late, going winless in its last seven games. Despite this, a raucous Compton is unlikely to intimidate the Minutemen, who travelled to then-No. 7 Boston College and earned a 2-2 draw on Nov. 15.
Senior forward Conor Sheary sparks the offense for the Minutemen with a team-leading eight assists, while senior forward Branden Gracel and freshman forward Steven Iacobellis will look to notch their sixth goals of the season against Irish senior goaltender Steven Summerhays.
In goal, junior Steve Mastalerz has seen most of the time for Massachusetts, but freshmen Mac Haight and Alex Wakaluk have each started two games this season. While the Irish have been struggling on offense, the Minutemen defense will be challenged by the consistent threat of Irish leading scorer – and last week’s Shillelagh Tournament Most Outstanding player – senior center T.J. Tynan.
With Tynan on a hot streak and a battery of players returning, Jackson said Notre Dame must capitalize and enter Christmas break on a winning note.
“We need to get points in the league,” Jackson said. “Right now, we’re under .500 in the conference. We’ve only played six games, but even so, I think we have even higher expectations than that.”
Notre Dame and Massachusetts will face off at Compton Family Ice Arena at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 6:35 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact Casey Karnes at [email protected]