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Herr embraces role as goal-scorer for Irish

| Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One of the players leading Notre Dame in goals this year did not find the back of the net at all for the Irish a season ago. It was not because he missed the majority of the season to injury or was ineligible. And it was not because he’s a freshman this season.

20140118 MHockey v Lakers Sam Herr2 by Michael Yu Irish sophomore forward Sam Herr skates with the puck during Notre Dame’s 4-2 victory over Lake
Superior State on Nov. 18. The night before, Herr scored twice to give the Irish a 6-3 win over the Lakers.

Sam Herr spent much of his rookie campaign watching his team’s games instead of playing. The now-sophomore did rack up some minutes — he played mostly sparingly in 13 of Notre Dame’s 41 games and had one assist — but was usually scratched and relegated to the stands, where he learned by watching former Irish captain Anders Lee.

Following Lee’s departure to the New York Islanders organization, Herr has followed in his footsteps by doing what Lee did best: score goals.

Herr is tied with fellow sophomore forward Mario Lucia for the team lead with 12 goals. Although Herr has emerged as a top offensive threat for the No. 15 Irish (14-8-1, 3-5-1 Hockey East) the journey wasn’t always easy. Herr missed all of January his freshman season with a bout of mononucleosis. That was sandwiched between a first half and second half of the season marred by individual inconsistency.

“When we recruited him, we certainly saw some potential for him to develop into a top-line player,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “But last year, I think he had a hard time finding that consistency. He’d show signs — like one game he’d play really good and then he’d kind of disappear for five games. So he wasn’t in the lineup as much as he probably would have liked to have been.”

As lack of playing time mounted, the message from Jackson to Herr was clear: to see the ice, the 6-foot, 206-pounder needed to play bigger.

So Herr said he used the time to make mental notes of how Lee played big by getting to the net and winning the puck in tough areas of the ice. He combined those mental notes with increased strength developed over the summer to breakout this season.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating for any player sitting out; they want to play,” Herr said. “But I learned so much from it. It was ridiculous actually because even after games where I didn’t play, the coaches didn’t need to talk to me – I didn’t have an impact on the game, I was just in the stands — but they [asked], ‘Hey, what’d you see out there?’ … It was like a self-check.”

Jackson said many similarities — both positive and negative — exist between the two players.

“Sammy still needs work on his skating, similar to Anders,” he said. “He needs to develop more agility to his game and first-step quickness and Anders was the same way. But his body and his hockey sense and his hands make him a formidable player.”

Those attributes have come in handy for both Herr and the Irish. With the score tied at three and less than six minutes remaining on Friday against Lake Superior State, Herr worked his way toward the net to score the game-winning goal. He added another goal on a breakaway to make the game’s final margin 6-3.

Herr will try to continue to use that ‘big’ mentality — fine-tuned from learning from the stands a year ago and working hard in the weight room in the offseason — to lead the Irish to a sweep when they host No. 11 Northeastern on Friday and Saturday night.

“It’s difficult [when you’re a freshman] because you’ve got guys that are 24 [years old] out there and you consider them big and manly guys,” Herr said. “But you’ve just got to play the role and you’ve got to realize if you’re not strong enough and you’re getting bounced around, you’ve got to get strong enough and you’ve got to compete harder. And if it’s not working out for you, you’ve got to make it work. But I realized that that’s my role, and I realized that coming in here. It just took me awhile to learn it.”

Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]

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