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Three Irish skaters nominated for prestigious Hobey Baker Award

| Friday, January 27, 2023

As this weekend’s important conference series against Wisconsin approaches, three Notre Dame skaters have been nominated for college hockey’s most prestigious award. But don’t tell them that. 

With the Irish in the thick of the hunt to make the NCAA Tournament, individual awards are not at the forefront of their minds.

“I didn’t know it was coming out or anything, so I got a text and thought, ‘This is pretty cool!’ It was never on my mind at all,” senior forward Trevor Janicke said. He, along with graduate student defenseman Nick Leivermann and senior goaltender Ryan Bischel, were nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.

The award, named after one of the greatest American athletes of the twentieth century, Hobey Baker, is given out annually to the most excellent all-around player in men’s college hockey. Despite its status as an individual accomplishment, all three Irish were quick to pass off the praise. 

“It’s not an individual award at all,” Janicke said, whose eight goals and 17 points lead the team. “It’s a testament to my teammates and the coaches as well.”

For Leivermann, the team’s captain, seeing his and his teammates’ names on the list of 86 nominees is especially meaningful. 

“One other thing that’s special for us [to see] is all the other guys in the country right now that are up for [the award]. Those guys are all pretty high-end talent names, so any time you’re in a category of the top players in college hockey, it feels pretty good,” Leivermann said. “You’re doing something right. It’s a testament to everybody, not just us, and we are pretty grateful.”

All three have taken different paths to earning their nomination. 

Goaltender Ryan Bischel, for instance, was not initially named to the list of nominees. Yet, 52 and 42-save performances in last weekend’s games at No. 6 Penn State caught the attention of the committee, who added Bischel to the list this week. 

His late addition has nothing to do with a lack of qualifications. The netminder has been a stalwart for the Irish, racking up 824 total saves, the most in college hockey. His .928 save percentage is fifth-best nationally, and best among goaltenders who have played 1,000 minutes or more. Earlier this month, Bischel was also named to the watch list for the Mike Richter Award, given to the nation’s top goaltender.

As the team’s go-to goalie, Bischel has started every game this season to date, and he ranks second nationally in minutes played. What’s his secret to staying sharp so consistently?

“I spend a lot of time in the hot tub,” Bischel said, half laughing. “Focusing on taking care of my body has been a big emphasis here.”

Being prepared mentally has also been a focus for Bischel, who said that football coach Marcus Freeman’s message to the team earlier this month helped him stay in the moment, “one shot at a time.”

For forward Trevor Janicke, the path to his nomination has been bolstered by a strong second half of the season. The Maple Grove, Minnesota, native has been finding his offensive rhythm of late. He has tallied five goals in the last seven games.

Such success in his senior season at Notre Dame is extra special for Janicke because of his family ties to the program. Janicke’s Dad, Curtis, was a forward with the Irish from 1989-1993. His brother, Justin, is a sophomore on the team. The brothers have played together for the first time in their hockey careers during the last two seasons.

“I basically have been bleeding gold and blue since I was born. I knew the Notre Dame fight song when I was, like, two years old,” Janicke said. “My whole life, this was my dream.”

Leivermann, returning for his fifth and final season with the Irish this year, is one of the most important members of this Notre Dame squad. As usual, Leivermann is putting up good offensive numbers, averaging .72 points per game from the back end. Despite missing eight games this year due to injury, Leivermann leads Irish defensemen in points and his next goal will tie his single-season high of six. 

Most importantly, the team’s captain does not shy away from the ambitions of Notre Dame hockey. Acknowledging, with an 11-12-3 record through 26 games, that this year has not gone to plan, Leivermann sees opportunity ahead for this Irish team.

“We have an expectation to win the Big Ten and make a run for the national championship, and that’s still our expectation, even though things aren’t going our way,” Leivermann said. “We still find ourselves in a spot where things are going to work out if we pull together a few wins.”

In that sense, this weekend’s series against Wisconsin takes on an important tone. Time is of the essence for the Irish to start their climb up the standings. Only six games remain in the regular season after this weekend, all of which are against top-15 opponents.

The Irish are currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble. They sit at 15th in the PairWise Rankings, a system that determines which teams qualify for the 16-team tournament. 

What is the energy like in the locker room going into such a critical series?

“Excited,” Bischel said. “I think the room today after practice was, like, the most excited I’ve seen it all year, so yeah, I think the guys are fired up for sure.”

The sense of urgency around the team was best summed up by Janicke.

“It’s time to go… now, it’s playoff hockey.”

The puck drops on a crucial regular season series at Compton Family Ice Arena tonight at 7:35 p.m EST. Game two of the series will follow on Saturday at 6 p.m. EST.

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