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Irish look to step up offensively as season gets underway

| Friday, October 7, 2016

Arizona State and No. 9 Notre Dame enter this season with expectations about as polarized as Congress, but both look to answer questions about their identity this weekend at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Sun Devils will drop the puck on just their second season at the Division I level. The program finished its inaugural campaign 5-22-2, and just three of those five wins came against Division I competition.

The Irish, on the other hand, made an appearance in the 2016 NCAA tournament after missing the postseason the year before, finishing with a 19-11-7 record overall and a 15-5-2 record en route to a third-place finish in Hockey East.

Consequently, expectations are high for this season’s squad. Irish head coach Jeff Jackson has said junior goaltender and this year’s team captain Cal Petersen and the rest of the new core leadership group have filled the void created by the departure of seniors like two-year captain Steven Fogarty. What remains to be seen, however, is how Notre Dame replaces the offensive production it lost to graduation: Fogarty, last year’s top goal scorer Thomas DiPauli and the rest of the senior class accounted for 48 of Notre Dame’s 115 goals (42 percent) and 107 points last season.

The Irish caught a glimpse of how that might happen in Sunday’s 5-1 exhibition victory over the U.S. National Development Team Program’s U18 squad. Sophomore forward Jack Jenkins and junior defenseman Jordan Gross each netted a pair of goals for the Irish. Sophomore forward Dylan Malmquist also found the back of the net in the victory while junior forward Anders Bjork chipped in a pair of assists.

Gross and Bjork were both fixtures on offense for the Irish last season. Bjork led the team with 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists) while Gross was fourth with 31 (nine goals and 22 assists).

“Jordan Gross has had a really good camp, and I’m hoping that he takes a step,” Jackson said at media day on Sept. 29. “He’s always had the offensive gifts, but I told him that he needs to try to emulate the guy he played with a few years ago in [Robbie] Russo, where’s not just really good offensively but he can play without the puck, too. And so far in camp I’ve been very impressed with how he’s performed. …

“We have to hope that just like last year, when you get guys like Fogarty chipping in more, DiPauli scored more … you have to hope that Anders Bjork scores more this year. [Junior forward] Jake Evans has got to score more this year for us.”

Bjork echoed that sentiment.

“I definitely need to step up offensively with my offensive production,” Bjork said at media day. “Big focal point for me will be goal scoring and learning how to get into those gritty areas and finish more goals to help produce offensively and ultimately help our team win.”

Malmquist joined the Irish straight out of high school last year but hardly looked out of place on the ice, finishing with 17 points (11 goals and six assists).

“[Sophomore forward Andrew] Oglevie, Malmquist, those two kids didn’t play on the power play last year,” Jackson said. “They’re probably power play candidates this year, so I’m sure we’ll get more production for them. And then you hope some of the freshmen step up.

“But we’ve got candidates to be productive, and it’s just like last year we didn’t know 100 percent where our scoring was going to come from either. But we’ve got some guys who are showing some potential right now.”

What will define Notre Dame’s season might just be how much production it can get from players like Jenkins who will be seeing their minutes increase drastically from last season or who are stepping on the ice for the first time.

“Jack Jenkins has been a pleasant surprise, coming in as more of a role player last year,” Jackson said. “He’s kind of elevated into being more of a top-nine forward as opposed to a fourth-line guy. … Big Cameron Morrison … you don’t notice him a lot and then all of a sudden, boom, he’s going to the net and scores a goal, and that’s his game. He’s got a little Anders Lee to him. Cal Burke, he’s got speed. He’s a competitor, he competes hard. He’s a pretty smart player. I think he’s got some offensive potential for us.”

The Irish will look to continue developing that offensive production when the regular season gets underway against the Sun Devils. Friday night the puck drops at 7:35 p.m. and Saturday action gets underway at 7:05 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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