Jan. 19, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Seeing leads of 1-0 and 2-1 disappear against Connecticut, the University of Notre Dame hockey team faced a 3-2 deficit in the third period at Compton Family Ice Arena Friday night.
Fighting to pick up points in the Hockey East standings, Notre Dame got the scoring punch it needed when Austin Wuthrich stepped up for the Irish at the 11:37 mark of the third period.
Robbie Russo rifled a shot at the Connecticut goal that ricocheted off teammate Sam Herr. As the puck bounced toward Wuthrich, he reacted immediately, smacking the puck into the net to help the Irish gain a 3-3 tie with the Huskies and pick up a point in Hockey East action.
Notre Dame then went to Connecticut and took a 6-1 decision Sunday to win the series. The Irish improved to 5-2-3 in Hockey East and 10-11-3 overall.
If Notre Dame is to make a second-half push to make its mark in March, the Irish will need strong senior leadership like Wuthrich has been delivering. The Irish return to Compton Friday and Saturday nights to play New Hampshire.
"He's playing his best hockey right now, which is important, being a senior," Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said of Wuthrich. "He's a smart player. His skating hurts him, sometimes, to be able to keep up, but he does compete. That's a huge part. If you compete and think the game, those are two pretty big qualities."
According to Jackson, Wuthrich is putting the finishing touches on a legacy carved out with grit and grind, hard work and heart.
"Austin cares," Jackson said. "He wants to have a good senior year."
Wuthrich said his tying goal on Friday to hound the Huskies was a matter of knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.
"You hang around the net and good things are going to happen," he said. "The coaches have been helping me that a lot, telling me where to go and what to do.
"I'm so happy to score some big goals," said Wuthrich, who has lit the lamp seven times this season, most of them at clutch times. "I'm hoping to score that game-winner, so we can win some games. It's instinct and what the coaches tell us. What you do in practice leads to what you do in games. It's just being consistent with what you're doing, and it will happen for you."
Wuthrich, selected by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has been an inspirational force for the Irish. The 6-foot-1-inch, 204-pound power forward from Anchorage, Alaska, has gone face to face with adversity throughout his career, overcoming numerous injuries to be as much of an impact player as he can for the Irish.
"The injuries have affected his game," Jackson said. "With all the concussions he's had, it's put him on his heels at times, but he's giving it everything he's got right now."
Wuthrich said he's feeling as well as he has in his career.
"I'm healthy ... I'm feeling good," Wuthrich said. "I think the reason I'm playing well is maturity, understanding that practicing hard leads to good games. I think coach has more confidence in me, putting me out there more, so that's always helpful, getting more ice time."
There has never been any hesitation for Wuthrich in terms of forging a determination to return to the ice from injury.
"You have to understand, I've dealt with it my whole life," Wuthrich said of punching back at adversity. "I've been injured plenty of times, to where you just have to focus on the process. You know you're going to come back. It stinks when you get injured. The worst thing you can do is get down about yourself. You have to keep a positive attitude and come back even stronger. That's all you can do."
Irish sophomore center Vince Hinostroza said Wuthrich has been an outstanding leader.
"Obviously, as a senior, he's been through a lot over the past four years," Hinostroza said of Wuthrich. "I played with him last year and this year, and it's really helped me progress and get a lot better. He's an amazing guy to play with. He finds areas. If he gets in the slot, you know it's going in. He's not afraid to get in the corners and do some dirty work."
Wuthrich is focused not only on helping the Irish finish strong this season, but also on helping the freshman-dominated Irish club set a tone for the future.
"As a senior, and we have a lot of young guys, I hope they see how hard a lot of the upperclassmen are working," Wuthrich said. "They have to understand that you have to work. We're not going to win games on just skill. You have to work hard every game, every shift. You can't take a shift off. Hopefully, those guys learn. It comes with maturity."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent