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Irish top USNTDP in preseason exhibition game

| Monday, October 2, 2017

On Sunday, the U.S. U18 National Team Development Program (USNTDP) visited the Irish to open up the hockey season. Comprised of the best hockey players in the country under the age of 18, the USNTDP competes in the USHL and plays exhibition games against colleges and minor league teams across the United States. Notre Dame goaltender Dylan St. Cyr is an alumnus of the program, and the U.S. team featured three players committed to join the Irish as freshmen next winter.

Irish freshman forward Colin Theisen skates with the puck during Notre Dame's 4-3 win over USNTDP on Sunday at Compton Family Ice Arena.Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer
Irish freshman forward Colin Theisen skates with the puck during Notre Dame’s 4-3 win over USNTDP on Sunday at Compton Family Ice Arena.

For Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, the game marked a great warmup for the season.

“Sometimes the team has a hard time getting up for this exhibition game when its in the middle of the season,” Jackson said. “When you play them in the beginning, the guys are just excited to play. I would rather play this team early in the season because they can make plays. They probably have four or five first-rounders on that team, so there was a lot of talent on the ice tonight.”

The USNTDP came quickly in the first two shifts of the Irish season, registering the first two shots on goal. The Irish struggled to break the puck out until a strong shift from the trio of junior Joe Wegwerth, sophomore Cal Burke and junior Andrew Oglevie managed to push the puck deep in the opposite zone.

The Irish, led by senior defenseman Jordan Gross, were firing away with slap shots from the point, but it was a rush play that got Notre Dame on the board first. A solid save from sophomore goaltender Cale Morris put an Irish two on one in motion. Sophomore Cam Morrison collected a cross ice pass from senior forward Jake Evans and fired past U.S. goalie Drew DeRidder for the first goal of the game at the 7:42 mark of the first period.

Notre Dame controlled most of the first period, outshooting the U.S. team 12-8, but the Irish put themselves in a tough position at the end of the first. Junior defenseman Bobby Nardella took a high sticking penalty at 17:24 in the first period, with freshman forward Pierce Crawford joining him in the box for a hook just 62 seconds later.

The impending five-on-three allowed for Oliver Wahlstrom to rip a snapshot off the crossbar and in past Morris with just 42 seconds left to play in the first period to tie the game.

Notre Dame and the U.S. each came out firing in the second period. The USNTDP scored on a point blast by Bode Wilde that was tipped in front by Jonathan Gruden and found its way through the legs of  Morris. But just 28 seconds later, the Irish responded with a point blast of their own, driven home by sophomore defenseman Torey Dello.

Midway through the second period freshman goaltender Dylan St. Cyr relieved Morris in net. With the starting job up for grabs after the departure of Cal Petersen this season, Coach Jackson was pleased with each of their performances during the game.

“They both did some good things tonight. They’ll both be getting time for a few games, maybe even a month or longer, who knows,” Jackson said. “If they both play well, it’s always good to have hard decisions.”

The Irish came out flying in the third period, scoring two within the first four minutes. Wegwerth fired home a wrist shot from the high slot off a feed from Cal Burke. Just as the announcer finished announcing that goal, freshman forward Colin Theisen put home a rebound generated by freshman Max Eisenmenger to make it 4-2 in favor of the Irish.

The Irish dominated the third period, at one point running their shots on goal advantage all the way up to 39-23. The U.S. would pull its goalie with three minutes remaining in the game, and Mattias Samuelsson scored with 1:04 left on the clock off of a skillful passing play in the Irish end with the extra attacker to set up a frantic finale. The U.S. applied pressure leading up to the final horn, but the Irish defense proved too much for the U.S. to overcome, as Notre Dame closed out the win.

“We came out really well in the third period, that’s a great game for us to play because they’re a skill team and they really make you work defensively because of their speed and their skill level,” Jackson said. “We’ve had three years in a row where we’ve played them and it’s been a really good game. The speed of the game was high. Our guys are probably getting tired of hitting each other in practice, it was a good game for us.”

Notre Dame opens up its regular season next weekend by welcoming Alabama-Huntsville to Compton Family Ice Arena for a two game set. In game one on Friday, the puck drops at 7:35 p.m., followed by game two on Saturday night, slated to start at 7:05 p.m.

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