Irish begin season with 10 freshmen
Alex Carson | Friday, October 10, 2014
When No. 12 Notre Dame opens its season tonight at the Compton Family Ice Arena, it will do so with 10 freshmen on its roster.
Then again, this is not the first time Irish coach Jeff Jackson has been in this position.
“Oh, we’ve done it here,” Jackson said. “We did it here four years ago. We had 12 freshmen four years ago, and they did pretty well for themselves.”
Jackson was, of course, referring to the 2010-11 Irish team that made the NCAA Frozen Four. And as for freshmen-heavy teams Jackson had as an assistant and later a head coach at Lake Superior State? Even better results.
“The other experience I’ve had [as an assistant], in 1988, we won the national championship with 12 freshmen,” Jackson said.Four years later, with a 10-man freshmen class, Jackson won his first of two national titles as a head coach.
This year’s freshman class — including center Connor Hurley, a 2013 Buffalo Sabres second-round pick — features four players selected by NHL teams in entry drafts over the past few years.
For Hurley — who averaged nearly a point per game last year in the junior-level United States Hockey League with the Muskegon Lumberjacks and the Green Bay Gamblers — coming to Notre Dame was an easy decision.
“I kind of knew about Notre Dame and what it was all about, but ever since I went on my visit, it was a no-brainer,” Hurley said.
Hurley said consistency will be key to his ability to contribute during his first year at the collegiate level.
“I think I just need to bring my skills game,” Hurley said. “Coach Jackson has talked to me about being consistent, and definitely, coming in as a freshman, you have to be consistent to stay in the lineup. I think that is a big part of it. I think I just have to have high expectations for myself and do everything I can to make plays and score goals.”
Like Hurley, freshman goaltender Cal Petersen is a Buffalo Sabres prospect. A fifth-round selection in the 2013 draft, Peterson is fresh off the heels of a season that saw him named as USA Hockey’s Goaltender of the Year. Petersen’s regular season save percentage for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL last year was .915 with a goals-against average of 2.50. Those numbers improved during the Black Hawks’ run to within one game of a championship as he posted a .928 save percentage with a 2.37 GAA during 12 playoff starts.
The Irish lost starting goaltender Steven Summerhays to graduation this offseason, so Petersen said he knows he will be competing with sophomore Chad Katunar for the starting job this year.
“I think it is a very healthy, competitive relationship,” Petersen said. “Obviously, we’re both battling. It’s a unique situation with goaltenders where only one guy can play on a given night. I think we’re handling it well — we’re both competitive guys; we’re both friends; we don’t have anything between each other. He’s a great guy; he’s supportive, and I hope I am being the same for him.”
Jackson indicated both goaltenders will have a chance to prove their merits early in the season.
“I expect that early on, both of them will play,” Jackson said. “It’s a matter of if one of them steps up. If both of them step up, that’d be great. I’ll play two guys. Some schools have had success with that, and we’ve got two qualified guys.”
On defense, the Irish have just three returning players with significant game experience, creating a teaching opportunity for Jackson, his staff and the veteran players.
“None of them are shut out — they’re coming to us, to me, to Robbie, to Andy Ryan, for advice on how they can get better and help the team,” senior defenseman Eric Johnson said. “Us being willing to help them on and off the ice, we’ve been going out of our way to do that, and I think that’s helped them a lot.”
In terms of the front line, Jackson said the return of Hurley — who missed Sunday’s exhibition and is “day-to-day” — will shuffle things a bit.
“Up front, I’m anxious to get Connor Hurley back in the mix,” Jackson said. “There was a little chemistry with the speed of guys like [junior center Thomas] DiPauli with [freshman left wing] Anders Bjork, even [freshman right wing] Jake Evans — skill but maybe a little too high risk at times — but we try to recruit offensive guys, and I want them to be creative when they get on the attack.”
En route to a Frozen Four berth in 2011, former Notre Dame center T.J. Tynan tallied 54 points to lead all Division-I freshmen.
This year’s Irish will see if they can get a similarly strong season out of their newcomers.