Jeff Jackson discusses preparing for the season in Monday presser
Dominic Gibson | Wednesday, November 11, 2020
The 2020-21 Notre Dame hockey season is set to begin Friday at the Compton Family Ice Arena with a two-game home series against Wisconsin. Despite starting school in August, the Big Ten did not give the green light to start action until a full three months after first practices.
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said his players are extremely excited to start the season and gain valuable game experience after an extended amount of practice time.
“Obviously the guys are biting at the bit. I mean, they’re tired of practicing and hitting each other in practice. They need to play games,” Jackson said. “We’ve really spent a lot of time on skills and fundamentals, and we’ve done a lot of small games and we’ve scrimmaged every Saturday just to let the guys play. Their lives revolve around what they do in the classroom and what they do on the ice. I think they’ve been looking forward to this day ever since we started school.”
Although the team has had extra time to practice, the long hiatus of real game experience may lead to some early hiccups, Jackson said, not just for the Irish but for teams around the league in general.
“We usually have the exhibition game and six, nine non-conference games before we play a league game, and now, we’re starting the season with league games,” Jackson said. “It could be entertaining, let’s put it that way. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of mistakes to be made, and it’ll take probably a little time to acclimate to actually playing serious hockey again.”
One of the keys to a successful season for the Irish this year will be relying on their returning players to continue to progress in their development. While the incoming class of freshmen will certainly play a critical part for the team this season, Jackson is especially hopeful that his returning core can lead the squad in a big way.
“The success of our team is more than likely going to be based on our returning guys. We have four recruited freshmen who will all play and will have some kind of significant role with our team, but they are freshmen,” Jackson said. “The base of our team is all returning guys. We don’t have a big senior class again this year, but we have a real big junior class and a big sophomore class. We’re going to be relying on the returning guys to take a step.”
Another key to success will be finding the back of the net on a regular basis again while allowing fewer goals in the process, something that eluded the Irish last season.
“We’re going to have to find a way to get back to that three-goal-a-game margin that we’ve had in recent years. Last year we fell below three goals a game and our goals against also went up about two,” Jackson said. “We have got to try to get back to the basics of what we do and what we do well, and I’m hoping the maturity of this team will help that happen.”
In regard to netminders and defense, Jackson said he likes what he’s seen with senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr and sophomore goaltender Ryan Bischel. Jackson is also hopeful that his returning core of defensemen along with freshman Zach Plucinski can shore up the blue line.
“I’ve been really impressed with both of our young goaltenders, Dylan St. Cyr and Ryan Bischel. But St. Cyr came back with a fire in his eyes,” Jackson said. “He’s in the best shape of his life, and he’s looked extremely good in practice. Ryan Bischel has also had his moments just not quite as consistent as Dylan.”
Jackson said his returners will be spending more time on the ice while the freshmen get more experience and have time to grow.
“He’s still a freshman but I think that Zach Plucinski is going to be a surprise to some people. But I do think, you know, we’re going to rely on Matt Hellickson, and Nate Clurman, and Spencer Stastny. We’re hoping Nickie Leivermann takes a big step this year, and Charlie Raith took a big step for us last year so we’re hoping those guys all can step right back into the mix of things,” he said.
On the front end, Jackson will again be turning to upperclassmen leadership to try and lead the charge and step forward, especially in junior forwards Michael Graham, Alex Steeves, Jake Pivonka and Graham Slaggert.
“Upfront, for me, it’s going to be a lot of the guys from that junior class. Obviously, we certainly need a few of the senior forwards to step up, guys like Colin Theisen and Pierce Crawford, Matt Steeves,” Jackson said. “And then you know, some of the sophomores, Jesse Lansdell and Trevor Janicke both, we’re hoping that can step up and make an impact as sophomores. So some guys that are earning their way into the lineup from the freshman year could have an impact.”
Looking at their matchup against Wisconsin, Notre Dame will likely have its hands full as the Badgers possess one of the more talented rosters in the Big Ten and play a quick, fast-paced style of hockey.
“As far as Wisconsin goes, they have some tremendously skilled players, maybe the best player in the country in Cole Caufield,” Jackson said. “Strategically, they’re hard to play against in a lot of areas on the ice, I mean, they really do a good job of being aggressive, staying up with their defense, you know, causing turnovers in the neutral zone.”
Conference play will likely not be any easier for the Irish as the inclusion of Arizona State adds another top 20 ranked team into the mix. Six of the seven teams in the Big Ten sit within the top 20, and Notre Dame will need to be on top of things to grab as many conference points as they can this season.
“It’s going to be a challenging, challenging year. There are no easy nights,” Jackson said. “There never is in college hockey, but it’s even magnified more in the Big Ten.”
Puck drop for the start of the season is set for 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.