For a few years now, I've been intrigued by the hockey culture surrounding the state of Minnesota. I've been to Minnesota two memorable times in my nearly 22 years; both were in the last year. The first time was in January of this year. It's a bad idea to drive North on I-35 in January during a blizzard, but I had the opportunity to go to a Minnesota Wild game against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center, so I was pretty motivated to get to the Twin Cities on time. The first thing I noticed at Xcel was the plethora of "State of Hockey" banners hanging from the ceiling. And it really seems to be the only state where hockey isn't just a hobby; rather, it's an expectation.
I've met quite a few people from Minnesota here at Notre Dame, and most of them did play hockey at one point or another in their lives. I can't name a single person I know from back home (Kansas) who ever tried hockey. Last year, when I interviewed Steven Fogarty, he said he played hockey growing up in Minnesota "because everyone played hockey," and he wasn't hyperbolizing. It's an interesting culture, and I've always been amazed by it.
The Notre Dame roster features eight members from Minnesota, and five of those eight went to Edina High School. The state with the second most players on the roster is Illinois with only four. That alone shows that there's something unique about the land of 10,000 lakes. Unsurprisingly, the University of Minnesota has a few--okay, a lot--more students and athletes from its own state. 22 of the 28 players (nearly 79%) on the Minnesota Golden Gophers roster are from the state. If football is a religion in the South, hockey is definitely a religion in the North.
Pictured above, counter-clockwise: Jordan Gross, Maple Grove; Mario Lucia, Plymouth; Bo Brauer, Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist, Steven Fogarty, and Ben Ostlie, Edina; Tony Bretzman, Mendota Heights
And that's why I'm always so eager for the series against Minnesota. When the Golden Gophers come into town, there's an unspoken sense of heightened excitement that invades campus. There's also that little family rivalry that everyone knows about (in case you didn't know--but you probably did--our own senior Mario Lucia plays his father, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, a 1981 Notre Dame graduate) that makes things more intense. More importantly, it's the fact that such a big portion of our own team have played with and against the members of the Minnesota team not only in college, but every year of pee-wee, junior and high school hockey leading up to these games. For one weekend, friends and family become frenemies and the oft-known overly warm, ambitiously sweet Minnesotans become ice cold and viciously competitive. It's a series that never fails to entertain.
For the freshmen on the Notre Dame hockey team who just played their first game this past weekend on the ice of the Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena, they've got four long seasons awaiting them. For the seniors, this is it: their last chance at an NCAA title. This year, their last, is also a year for the seniors to step up into leadership roles and show the freshmen the difference three years can make.
Missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, held at Notre Dame, stung. Some lessons, however, came out of it and this year's captains have set some goals and precedents for the season to get them not only to the tournament, but to the championship game in April. I spoke with four of the five captains--Steven Fogarty and alternate captains Sam Herr, Mario Lucia, and Tommy DiPauli--to talk about the outlook on the upcoming season, how they've changed since 2012, and what they've learned from experience and mistakes that they can teach to the team they're now leading.
"As a team we've come up with some goals for ourselves. I mean, there are performance goals, but there are also team value goals," Fogarty revealed. "Our main goal obviously is to win a national championship, but there are steps you've got to take to get there. I mean something we missed out on last year is the NCAA tournament, and we realized how important the non-conference games are. Those are usually at the beginning of the year, so we really need to have an emphasis on those, but obviously we have some off-ice values that we're going to try to hold everyone accountable to, and if we do that, I think we're going to have success on the ice."
Fogarty is in his second consecutive year as team captain. Herr is also entering his second consecutive year as assistant captain. For Lucia and DiPauli, this will be their first season with letters on their jerseys, but regardless, they have both been leaders for some time. DiPauli says that the lesson he hopes to teach the freshmen is that mistakes happen, but moving on is what matters.
"As for leadership this year, [it's] teaching the younger guys that messing up is not a big deal. I think that's a big part for a lot of freshmen and sophomores, because often times those players can let one little mistake kind of dictate the rest of the practice or the rest of the game. I think it's important that they know that hockey is a game of mistakes, and mistakes are going to happen, but that's why we're a team."
Teaching that lesson and ingraining the moral values and season goals of the team in the freshmen began in June when the team, including the class of 2019, came to campus for summer school. That's also when team chemistry began to build. Fogarty reported that team chemistry is good--"definitely not an issue right now." With chemistry taken care of, focus is the next thing to tackle.
"Everyone acknowledges rankings, but at the end of the day, we try to get the team to focus on the weekends," said Herr. "People are going to hear about [the rankings], but going into a weekend, we try to keep the focus on that. 'We cannot accept anything less than four points' is the goal going into a weekend. We have objectives during a game that we try to achieve, we try to execute, and not think about the bigger picture, but it's hard to say that people don't actually do it. I think it's on us to make sure the team is focused on a weekend instead of the overall picture."
Lucia agreed, and added, "At the end of the day, it matters where you are at the end of the season, not at the beginning."
Only two games into the season, both exhibition games, that ends-based attitude will have to be reinforced every single day. The leadership unit this year, though, has plenty of experience, which leads to maturity.
"The main thing that I've noticed is [that] as we get older is everyone acts more like a professional. People start realizing how to take care of their bodies, and they start realizing the preparation that needs to go into a game and after a game to regroup, and stuff like that." Herr continued, "Each year you learn something different on how to handle that, and that's the biggest difference from freshman year. I'm not saying that freshman year you don't handle yourself well, but you obviously learn as you go."
Consequently, the advice they leave for their underclassmen includes the following:
"Work hard. Do the little things," suggested Lucia, who came out as a force in his first season with the Irish and has continued to be a top-scorer, improving every year.
"This may be cliche, but it's a process. You're not going to go out and execute every single thing that coach wants you to execute your first game. Everyone's going to make mistakes. We've all been there," said Herr, who missed several weeks of action his freshman year to illness. "Guys aren't going to see the ice time that they think they're going to see, but you just can't let that affect you. You have to have a positive attitude and you've got to stick to the process. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you've got to work to get there."
There's a long season ahead. That means months of potential mistakes, but also several months for improvement and success. With a strong and experienced leadership core to guide a talented group of underclassmen, the upcoming season hopes to be a great first for some and better last for others.
While our student-athletes have been working hard in preparation for the start of the fall season, we've also made a few improvements in anticipation of the new school year.
From this point forward, Irish UNDerground will be utilizing the Wordpress platform powered by NBC Sports.
Here's a look at our three new blog websites:
UNDerground: Notre Dame Athletics
Strong and True: Notre Dame Football
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Go ahead and bookmark these now. With features, videos, photos, commentaries and news from inside the athletic department, we are committed to bringing you coverage of Notre Dame athletics unlike any you can find elsewhere.
Get ready. 2012-13 is going to be an exciting year to be Irish.
Following in the footsteps of Bil Scholl '79 (Ball State), Tom Bowen '83 (Memphis) and Danny White '03 (Buffalo), former Irish hockey player Forrest Karr '99, became the fourth Notre Dame alum to be hired for a new athletic director position in the past six weeks, when Northern Michigan University named him to that post earlier today.
Karr will begin his new gig in the Upper Peninsula (or the "UP" as Michiganders call it) on June 11. The one-time Irish MVP and Academic All-American takes over the Wildcats athletic program after serving in the same role at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 2005. It's safe to say he should have no difficulty adjusting to the climate in Marquette.
Said NMU President David Haynes regarding Karr's hire:
Forrest Karr is a great fit to be NMU's athletic director. He comes into the position with outstanding leadership and management skills. He understands both NCAA Division I hockey and Division II intercollegiate programs, having been involved with both as a collegian and an administrator. He's been innovative and successful at UAF and has more than enough motivation and creativity to take Wildcat athletics to the next level of success. Forrest received tremendous support from all of the NMU groups that interacted with him during the interview process.
Read more on Karr on the NMU website.
Bowen, a theology and sociology major while at ND, was actually hired at Memphis on the same day Scholl was introduced in Muncie. The former San Jose State AD will also begin his new position next month.
- Josh Flynt ('11)
Following a particular college or university is a pastime for all sports fans as they go through their stages of adolescence. Whether it be where their parents went, where they live or just an obsession with a particular team for no apparent reason, all fans share random, common bonds with people who may be miles away.
As a child I grew up watching the 'Old Ball Coach' roam the sidelines for the Florida Gators (dad's alma mater), Tom Coverdale run the point for the Indiana Hoosiers (childhood team) and Autry Denson and Jarious Jackson run the option for the Irish (location). As I got older, the times and games I remembered turned in to moments in which to this day I have not forgotten.
Moments are what make us as sports fans keep coming back for more, albeit there were just over 28,000 paying customers in attendance at Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle's perfect game in 2009, as time goes by there will be 100,000 people claiming they were at Comiskey Park (I have and always will call it by this name) that day. I am not a fan of this particular Chicago area sports team, yet I will always remember where I was and whom I was with when this great moment took place.
I have many great and historic moments that I remember from the past 20-some years I have been a fan of Notre Dame. I have recollections that I would rather forget (Jackson's safety against LSU in 1998 in which he hurt his ankle and was out the following week) and those in which I wish I could relive over and over (Notre Dame women's basketball team taking down #1 UConn in 2001 at the Joyce en route to the program's first NCAA title). For both of those games, I remember where I was (Jackson's injury - celebrating Thanksgiving in Indianapolis, women's basketball vs. UConn - at game behind basket in first row).
This past athletic season had a fair share of 'Notre Dame Moments' in which I was able to witness; here are my top five ...
5. Frank Dyer, The All-American Guy
NCAA Men's Swimming Championships
March 24, 2012
In the 53 years of men's swimming at Notre Dame, the Irish have accomplished a lot - five BIG EAST Championships, five BIG EAST Coach of the Year honors and over 50 all-BIG EAST honorees - yet they had never had any swimmer garner national All-American recognition, until Frank Dyer's swim in Federal Way, Wash., this past season.
Dyer had been training all year long for the opportunity to make his mark in Notre Dame swimming lore. On a Friday evening in late March, he got his opportunity. As he stepped upon the blocks in the 200 freestyle finals, Dyer had the weight of the entire program on his back and he didn't disappoint.
The gun went off and just one minute and 34 seconds later, Notre Dame had its first All-American, Frank Dyer.
4. Freeby Calls Bull's Shot
Baseball vs. Pittsburgh
March 23, 2012
It may not have been George Herman Ruth calling his shot or even Jake Taylor, but Notre Dame baseball radio announcer Chuck Freeby opined between innings on the broadcast that the Irish would defeat the Panthers in the bottom half of the ninth inning on a home run from freshman Ryan Bull.
What happened next was truly amazing as Bull hit his first career home run at the exact time in which Freeby 'called it.'
3. Squeezing The Orange
Men's Basketball vs. #1 Syracuse
January 21, 2012
On a cold January day, the Irish, with a record of 11-8, welcomed the undefeated Syracuse Orange into Purcell Pavilion for a BIG EAST conference clash.
As the game wore on, Notre Dame played more like the Harlem Globetrotters to Syracuse's Washington Generals.
Building a lead as big as 18 points, the Irish went on to win 67-58 in front of a sold-out crowd. This was the eighth time that the men's basketball program had knocked off the top-ranked team in the AP poll in its history.
2. Big Shot Britt
Women's Basketball vs. Connecticut
April 1, 2012
In the fourth meeting on the season between the two squads, the teams went back and forth throughout much of the game.
The Irish squandered a five-point lead late to find themselves down two with just under-10 seconds to play when Skylar Diggins drove the length of the court and put up a runner in the lane, the attempt would miss and fall in the hands of senior Natalie Novosel. After gathering the rebound, Novosel put the ball up on a reverse lay-up, to see the ball drop with just a few seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime.
The Irish found themselves down, three, early in overtime. That's when senior Brittany Mallory, who was shooting 1-11 in NCAA Championship play prior, was found in the corner for an open three, which she calmly drained.
After a rebound on the defensive end, Diggins quickly pushed the ball up the court and again found Mallory on the wing for another trey. The clutch play from their scrappy, sharpshooting senior would catapult the Irish to their second NCAA Championship game in as many years.
1. The Dedication Game (Holy War on Ice)
Hockey vs. Boston College
November 18, 2011
Taking part on the Friday night before their respective football teams clashed in the 'Holy War' on the gridiron, the hockey squads took to the ice for the 'Dedication Game' of the 50-million dollar Compton Family Ice Arena.
The sold-out crowd of 5,022 was treated to one of my favorite moments of my time at Notre Dame as the longtime tenor for the Chicago Blackhawks, Jim Cornelison (an Indiana University graduate), bellowed the National Anthem and kicked off a night full of moments.
This 'Notre Dame Moment' looked like something right out of the third Mighty Ducks when Bryan Rust capped off the game with a sudden-death victory goal with just 1.1 seconds left in overtime to give the Irish the 3-2 win.
These are just a few of the great Irish athletics moments from the past year. Every particular moment has its key players - Ryan Bull, Brittany Mallory, Frank Dyer - but the big question in sports has always been, "how will history remember you?" I'm sorry to say to all the athletes out there, it's not always your full athletic body of work that gets you remembered, sometimes it's just that one 'moment' where everything seems to come together and 20 years from now everyone is still talking about it, and all of Irish nation claims to have been there in person.
As the ghost of George Herman (Babe) Ruth told Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, "Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die."
- Aaron Horvath
Entering game two of the second-round CCHA series, Notre Dame's main focus Saturday was to shake off the previous night's heartbreaking double-overtime loss and force a game three.
Instead, the Irish likely saw their season end with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of conference rival Michigan.
"Both teams were probably a little tired, but our emotions were probably a little bit more drained," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "Losing a game late like that is like giving up a goal in the last minute of play. It's just a challenging emotional situation."
By all early indications, game two looked like it might be another low-scoring affair in the mold of the 83-minute thriller of the first matchup. But this time four goals came in a span of 14 minutes, and the Wolverines took the series.
Michigan didn't record a shot on goal in the first five minutes, and Wolverine goalie Shawn Hunwick was his usual self, stuffing early shots from Anders Lee and Mike Voran, in addition to denying David Gerths' breakaway chance.
The first tally of the game didn't come until there was 1:07 left in the first, when Michigan forward David Wohlberg scored his first of two goals. It was also the beginning of a scoring outburst that surpassed the previous night's total in just 34 minutes.
After goals by Michigan's Di Giuseppe and Wohlberg, Michigan had a 3-0 lead 12:09 into the second period, but Irish freshman Peter Schneider answered with a goal of his own 19 seconds later.
"Jeff Costello had a great forecheck on the defenseman, and then Riley and I had a two-on-one," Schneider said. "Riley Sheahan made a great pass, and I just put it into the open net.
"Our season was on the line, so I think everybody was playing with energy tonight - it was all or nothing."
However, Michigan's cushion was enough in the end, despite a furious third-period rally. Notre Dame outshot its opponent 12-4 in the period, including seven tries from right next to the net. For the second consecutive night, Hunwick proved too good to solve.
Over the weekend, the fifth-year senior allowed two goals on 64 shots with nearly 143 minutes of ice time. Hunwick's .969 save percentage in the series well surpassed his season average of .934, which was good for fourth-best in the country.
"You've got to get traffic to the net. You've got to get people in front of him. He sees everything, but Michigan does a good job of blocking shots," Jackson said. "The goal that we did score - you can't stop that. If you move the puck and break people down defensively, then you get good goal-scoring opportunities and rebounds where he's out of position."
Ranked 18th in the PairWise Rankings before the weekend, the Irish will most likely not participate in the NCAA tournament. If so, this series was a tough ending to the collegiate careers of Notre Dame's seniors.
"It's a great group of kids," Jackson said. "They're quality kids - they're great representatives of our university. I'd be proud to call any of those kids my own sons because of the type of kids they are."
- Craig Chval ('15)
Taking advantage of a Notre Dame turnover, Michigan forward Phil Di Giuseppe blasted a shot toward Irish goalie Steven Summerhays. The puck skipped past the sophomore, bounced off the post and was redirected by Wolverine captain Luke Glendening. And just like that - 1:08 into the game - Michigan had a 1-0 lead.
More than 82 minutes - and 39 saves - later, Summerhays finally surrendered another goal, and the Wolverines took the game 2-1 in double overtime off a Chris Brown one-timer. Michigan now leads the second round CCHA playoff series 1-0.
"I let in one that I probably want back," Summerhays said. "But the team came back and scored a goal for me, and I worked hard the rest of the game trying to fight to see pucks, and I thought we did a good job playing the puck in front of me."
In a matchup filled with hard hits, transition chances and iron-glancing shots, goaltending was the story as it appeared the battle between Summerhays and Shawn Hunwick would never end.
Hunwick went more than 48 minutes without giving up a goal, finally allowing the equalizer off the stick of Anders Lee. The goal was the highlight of a dominant third period, during which the Irish outshot Michigan 11-5. None of the Michigan shots on goal for the period was from within 30 feet of the net.
"He's a warrior, and he's done everything he can for this team and this program and there's another example tonight," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "We wouldn't have been in overtime if it weren't for Shawn Hunwick."
Despite the low score, both sides were not without opportunity. Twice - in the second period and first overtime - Michigan had pipe-hitting shots reviewed, but came away empty both times. In the closing seconds of the second period, Maday had an open shot hit a post as well. When skaters actually were hitting the net, they were almost always stuffed by Hunwick or Summerhays.
The lone Irish goal only came directly after Mike Voran had two breakaway chances saved by Hunwick. The Notre Dame attack continued for the rest of the period, but Hunwick stood on his head the rest of the way.
"It's frustrating we're not scoring on good chances, but Shawn made huge saves for us that kept us in the game," Glendening said. "He kind of stole that game for us, I guess - he played outstanding."
The hero of the first overtime period, Summerhays came up with one sensational save after another, fending off a Michigan attack that outshot the Irish 14-9 in the period.
"It's playoff hockey, and especially in college, you're goalie has to be your best player. I'm not saying I'm the best player, but I wanted to give my team a chance to win tonight," Summerhays said. "They had a lot of shots in that first power play in overtime. Guys were clearing bodies out and letting me see the puck and worry about tracking the rebound."
Although Michigan took game one of the 83-minute marathon, the Irish will look to come back and take the remaining two of the best-of-three series against the conference foe. It is likely the 18th-ranked Irish will need to win the series to make the 16-team NCAA tournament.
"The toughest thing in hockey, especially in college, is ending a team's season, so Michigan's got to come and end our season," Summerhays said. "We feel like we did a lot of good things tonight. We had a lot of momentum towards the end of that game. It was an even game both ways, so tomorrow's up for grabs."
- Craig Chval ('15)