Notre Dame men’s hockey starts season Saturday against LIU
Andrew McGuinness | Friday, October 8, 2021
It certainly was not a disappointing season, but the 2020-21 men’s hockey campaign left something to be desired in South Bend, though not because of anything the Irish did on the ice. Fans were not permitted to attend games at the usually raucous Compton Family Ice Arena, leading to a disappointing 5-11-1 home record. Despite that, the Irish qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year (the 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19). But their chance at a national championship was cruelly ripped from their hands due to a team COVID outbreak, prematurely ending Notre Dame’s season.
On Saturday, the No. 19 Irish set out to make up for last year’s disappointments as they kick off the 2021-22 season against the Long Island University Sharks (0-2-0-0, Independent) at 6 p.m. in Compton Family Ice Arena. Perhaps even more exciting: for the first time since February 29, 2020, fans will be allowed to attend a regular-season Notre Dame hockey game.
“I’ve told people in the past that last year I didn’t really notice the fans not being in the building on the road but I did at home,” head coach Jeff Jackson, who enters his 18th season behind the Irish bench, said. “I think that just even last Sunday, even though there wasn’t much of a crowd, the band being there made a huge difference. (Once) we get the student section filled and get our regular fans back, it’s going to be a much better environment to play and actually be excited to play because the crowd generally creates juice and that’s what makes the guys play at a higher level at all times.”
Though Saturday’s contest is the first one that counts, Notre Dame hit the ice last weekend, as Jackson alluded to. The Irish fell 4-3 to the United States National Team Development Program, who produced four players on Notre Dame’s current team, at Compton on Sunday, a somewhat disappointing but ultimately meaningless start to their season. Junior forward Solag Bakich scored twice, with Jackson calling “his energy a factor up front.” Freshman forward Justin Janicke (brother of junior forward Trevor) also tallied in an Irish comeback effort that fell just short.
Despite the suboptimal result, Jackson still took some positives away from the exhibition matchup. “We did some good things offensively and got some depth scoring in that exhibition game,” Jackson said, which he noted as a bit surprising for an Irish team he expects to rely on defense and goaltending this season. “We broke down mostly from transition on defense on Sunday, against a very talented group of kids. So that’s gotta be our focal point going into this next game.”
Speaking of goaltending, the game also marks the beginning of life for the Irish after Dylan St. Cyr, who was a rock in goal for the team last season. Jackson split the pipes between junior Ryan Bischel and graduate student Matt Galajda; Bischel stopped 22 of 24 shots in the first half of play, while Galajda saved 14 of 16 shots in the second half. Galajda, formerly of Cornell, is one of four graduate transfers on this year’s team. Jackson called Galajda “one of the top goalies in college hockey for three years prior to last season” while saying that Bischel “has taken a step here in our training camp thus far.” The Irish have consistently produced quality goaltenders over the years, from St. Cyr to Cale Morris to current LA Kings starter Cal Pedersen. Galajada and Bischel will hope to add their names to that list during the season.
While this weekend marks the beginning of Notre Dame’s season, LIU started theirs on Sunday and Monday with 3-1 and 5-2 road losses to Penn State, though Jackson was impressed by how the Sharks handled the experienced Nittany Lions in both games. “I expect it to be a challenge,” he said about Saturday’s contest. “I think they’ve got some decent goaltending and a real veteran presence, especially with a number of those grad transfers.” LIU’s coaching staff also includes former Notre Dame hockey intern Will Messa, per Jackson.
The bottom line is that for any team in any sport, getting off to a strong start is paramount for having a successful season. “We did some decent things Sunday,” Jackson said in recounting the defeat to the USNTDP. “It helps if we have some success doing the things we’ve been working on and then it just kinda builds as you move over the next five non-conference games.”
For the first time in eighteen months, Notre Dame hockey as we know it is set to return, with Jackson and the Irish ready to start the year on the right foot.