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Jackson talks schedule, points out camp stars

| Friday, October 4, 2019

The Irish have been back on the ice this fall, preparing to try to head back to the NCAA tournament and compete for a third-straight Big Ten playoff title. In a Thursday press conference, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said the team is excited to get back on the ice.

“At this point in the fall we’re always eager to get started,” Jackson said. “We’re limited up until Saturday to where we can only be on the ice four hours per week. There is still a lot of work to be done. The early part of the year is trying to get in game shape — trying to get your concepts in place. We spend a lot of time working with fundamentals and positional skills.”

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior forward Mike Leary comes to a stop during Notre Dames 6-3 win over Michigan State on Jan. 26 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

It will not be the same Irish unit that fans are used to from last season, especially on the blue line. Both former defensemen, Bobby Nardella graduated and Andrew Peeke left after his junior year to join the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Jackson acknowledged replacing these players will be a challenge, but the team has young players they are excited about.

“Ideally we’re going to get one or two young defensemen to step up,” Jackson said. “We have Nick Lieberman who was a freshman last year, did not play a lot. I do expect him to make more of an impact this year. He did help in the void of Bobby Nardella moving on, he’s a good offensive defenseman we just did not have enough room to play last year. We have a young defenseman in Ryan Carmichael that I think has a good future ahead of him. He’s young, only a year out of prep school [and] played in the USHL last year. I think he could be a positive factor for us.”

Nardella and Peeke were not the only ones to leave the team; the departures of former forwards Joe Wegwerth, Dylan Malmquist and others have left the Irish with an extremely young roster. Jackson said that having 17 underclassmen will force players to contribute.

“I’m excited about some of the young guys,” Jackson said. “We need to be, we have 17 underclassmen and 10 upperclassmen. It’s a younger group, especially on the back end. It’s not much different than it was a year ago. I expect we’ll have a fairly consistent line-up similar to last year, with the obvious exception of a few graduating seniors. Upfront the young guys I think are going to contribute right away.”

Despite all of his praise for the team’s underclassmen, the returning players are going to have the biggest impact on the season. The seniors are one of the winningest classes in Notre Dame hockey history already, having qualified for NCAA Tournament all three years, been to two Frozen Fours and won the Big Ten Title in consecutive years. Jackson had high praise for his leadership group, and believes that he has a deep senior class.

“It is really going to be our returning guys, our seniors, we have a strong senior and junior class that could all contribute in a big way. It’s going to be led by Cale Morris and … both [junior] Tory Dello and [junior] Matt Hellickson, the only two upperclassmen defensemen that we have,” Jackson said. “Those guys are going to be crucial. We are going to have great leadership with Cal [Burke] and Cale and Tory Dello as well. Also [senior forwards] Cam Morrison and Mike O’Leary could contribute in that area as well. It is a really sound senior class.”

The most important returning player will be goaltender senior Cale Morris. There was speculation in professional circles that he may have been a candidate to leave the Irish early, but the goaltender is back after two dominant years as a starter. The goaltender has appeared in 72 out of a possible 80 games for the Irish in the past two seasons, a massive workload at any level. Jackson said the team will look for more opportunities for Morris to rest this season.

“Especially in the early stages of the year, obviously we don’t want to go into the non-conference portion of our schedule,” Jackson said. “It’s important for us as a team and it’s important for our conference to well non-conference. I assume I am going to get Ryan Bischel in there a little bit — our freshman goaltender. Our initial plans are for [junior goaltender] Dylan St. Cyr potentially to redshirt this year because Cale is going to play the majority of the games for us. Ryan Bischel is a good goaltender that played in the USHL last year, we expect he will probably get some games early on.”

With quality young talent, a battle-tested and skilled group of upperclassmen, and an elite goaltender, this year’s Irish team appears well-positioned for its early season non-conference schedule. Jackson said the team’s early season schedule allows them to face some opponents that may not be getting enough preseason respect.

“We’re getting back to some our old CCHA rivals — we’re playing Bowling Green in a home and home, Western Michigan in a home and home, we’re playing Lake Superior State,” Jackson said. “Bowling Green was on the cusp of being in the tournament. Bowling Green was right there as well as Western Michigan being one [of] the NCHC opponents that’s probably going to be a top two or three team in that league. It’s a sneaky non-conference schedule; and Boston College is reloaded now, I expect them to be one of the top teams in the country.”

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