Irish open Hockey East play
Kit Loughran | Thursday, October 30, 2014
After six non-conference games to start the season, Notre Dame opens Hockey East play against Vermont tonight.The No. 20 Irish (4-2-0) host No. 13 Vermont (4-0-0, 2-0-0 Hockey East) at Compton Family Ice Arena tonight and Saturday. The Irish and Catamounts met in two games last season at Vermont’s home rink in Notre Dame’s first Hockey East appearances. Now, one year later, Notre Dame and Vermont meet once again to kick off Notre Dame’s second season in the Hockey East.
“It’s going to be a lot more challenging than the last couple weeks,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of this weekend’s matchup. “There are no easy nights in our conference, and [Vermont] is off to a very good start, so I expect it to be very challenging.”
While last year marked only the third time the Irish have faced the Catamounts in program history, Notre Dame now possesses more familiarity with its now-conference foe. In addition to breeding familiarity, one year of competition in Hockey East has provided invaluable experience on the ice against Vermont as well as other conference competitors, Jackson said.
“You could watch as much film as you want, but until you play a team, you don’t have as good an understanding of some of the things they do differently than other teams,” Jackson said. “Last year, everything was new — not just [the teams] but also the buildings, everything was different. So, this year playing Vermont we have a better understanding of them, of their personnel, how they manage their bench and things like that.”
Six games into the season, the Irish now have a better understanding of themselves and their team identity. Notre Dame enters tonight’s game off back-to-back sweeps of Lake Superior State on Oct. 17-18 and Niagara on Oct. 24-25. The Irish outscored their opponents by a 23-7 margin in that stretch.
The young Irish roster has seen break-out performances from freshman right wing Jake Evans and center Connor Hurley, while junior left wings Sam Herr and Mario Lucia, junior center and captain Steven Fogarty and senior defenseman Robbie Russo all have contributed to the attack.
“I think people have seen that the young guys are going to contribute from an offensive perspective, [and] I think they’ve all grown, the younger guys, and the older guys are getting their games back,” Jackson said. “We are getting a bit of chemistry with the lines, and we stayed with the line up for the most part for the first time [last weekend].
“I like what we are starting to develop on transition. We are getting real contribution from those four freshman forwards and two freshmen defensemen. When it’s all said and done, it’s going to be about finding ways to generate offense.”
Vermont faces the Irish with two conference victories under its belt. The Catamounts beat Connecticut, 2-1, on Saturday and Northeastern, 6-2, on Oct. 11. The Catamounts boast one of the nation’s strongest defenses, with junior goaltender Brody Hoffman holding a .940 save percentage overall and .935 save percentage in-conference. While the Irish underclassmen have seen their offense expand, Jackson said creating scoring opportunities against Vermont and in Hockey East will pose a new challenge.
“It’s going to be a bigger grind … six periods of hockey against Vermont is going to be a grind,” Jackson said. “They are a good defensive team, they’ve got good goaltending, and they’ve got decent depth.
“It’s going to be challenging to generate a lot offensively, which we’ve had success with this over the past couple weeks, but it’s going to get more challenging, so we have to be willing to grind it out to generate offense.”
The Irish open Hockey East action against the Catamounts tonight at 8:05 p.m at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame and Vermont will begin Saturday’s contest at 7:05 p.m.