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Jackson looks to increase offensive output in preparation for new season

| Tuesday, October 8, 2019

As the Irish get ready to begin their season against Air Force with a home series this weekend, head coach Jeff Jackson addressed the media to discuss the team’s mentality heading into the season. 

Over the weekend, Notre Dame took on the U.S National Development Program team in an exhibition to gear up for the regular season, and Jackson was confident he and his staff had learned much from the matchup.

“Yeah, I think we learned some things,” Jackson said. “We’re going to go watch the film, and we’ll sit down this afternoon and kind of look at our lineup, look at what areas showed up as far as what we’re going to need to focus on here in the next few weeks. It’s actually kind of nice to be able to have a bye week next week — we’ll be able to really get down to some more details within our game this short work week. … I think there were a lot of positives, a lot of things that I liked. But there’s also some things that we have to really buckle down on and focus on.”

Jackson said he was pleased with the squad’s depth at forward, but he harbored some concern regarding the team’s scoring depth. 

“I feel good about where we are with our forward depth,” he said. “Now, scoring depth is another question, but the bigger thing is going to be probably just coming up with power play units that are going to be productive. And I’ve always said in the past, it’s important to have two units because you only play one unit all the time that’s scoring, and generally you’re getting half a power play every time you have a power play. So that’ll be the bigger question, as far as what we do on the power plays, but I think that up-front we’ve got good depth where we can play four lines consistently. I think that’s a positive on the back end; we’re a little young back there, so that’s going to take some time for us to get some of those young guys up to speed.”

Jackson then fielded questions about senior goalie Cale Morris, who is recovering from an unspecified upper body injury. Morris, the 2018 Mike Richter award winner, has been a key piece in net for the Irish the last two years, and Jackson said he will continue to be key for the Irish this season. 

“It’s not a major injury, it’s just a minor thing that this time of the year it’s better to be precautionary, especially with the bye week coming up next week,” Jackson said. “We’d like to make sure he’s fully healthy before we throw him in there. I had planned on playing the freshmen at least one or two games during this stretch anyways, so it just makes it a more natural ability to play [freshman goaltender Ryan Bischel].”

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior goalkeeper Cale Morris guards the net during Notre Dame’s 5-2 win over Michigan on Feb. 12. Morris was the recipient of the Mike Richter Award in 2018, given annually to the nation’s best goalie.

Jackson commented on the play of Bischel, who saw the ice for a bit during the squad’s exhibition matchup over the weekend. 

“I thought he was a little nervous to start the game yesterday, but I thought he settled down in the second, third periods,” Jackson said. “I thought he did a really good job, made some key saves for us. I was really impressed with his puck decisions, too. He handled the puck fairly well, kind of like [junior goaltender] Dylan St. Cyr, he’s got good puck-handling skills. He could be an asset for us. But he made some good saves. He’s got a lot of the same tendencies as Cale. … There’s a few things that him and I talked about that he’s going to need to focus on here in his first year — try to tighten up his stance a little bit. … I think he’s got a chance to be an exceptional college goalie, and that bodes well for the future. We’ve got four guys that could probably all play right now. And I’m not a fan of four goalies, but it is what it is, and the goalie coach is going to have extra responsibilities this year.”

Jackson made clear his primary concerns lie in the team’s ability to put points on the board this season. The goaltending will be there, and the defense will improve, but Jackson stressed the importance of raising the squad’s average goals per game to above three. 

“We want to try to get, at a minimum, to three goals a game,” he said. “Last year, I think we were at like 2.8, 2.9. We need to try to get over three goals a game. We know we’re going to have goaltending, we know we can be successful probably, [but] one of our goals is to be better on the penalty kill — which we had a good start with yesterday. But the power play right now is still a work in progress. You know, last year our power play was over 20%, and if we can get our penalty kill up, then I’m happy. But right now the biggest question we have going into this next month here is going to be trying to solidify our power play units. That’s my biggest concern. If we get them going, then I think we can be a three-goal-a-game team at least, and that’s going to be the priority going into the next few weeks.”

The power play unit is a major concern within this goal scoring unit for Jackson. 

“Yesterday was a great game for us, because it now gives us something to build on, something to evaluate where we are,” Jackson said. “I mean you can do it in practice, but it always looks better in practice sometimes than in the actual game. And the power plays — they made some nice plays yesterday but not on a consistent basis, and we have to get to the point where we’re a threat every time we have a power play. But we really need to try to find two units that can be productive, not just one. And that’s going to be the biggest challenge that we have, because we only have so many guys that are real instinctive, playmaking type of guys. And we’ve got plenty of guys that can play the net front, you know; we need some guys that can make plays at the top.”

The Irish will take on Air Force this Friday and Sunday at Compton Family Ice Arena to begin the regular season. 

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