Jan. 31, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When University of Notre Dame hockey sophomore center Vince Hinostroza looked at the statistical rankings for NCAA Division I college hockey, it was a punch in the gut. Heading into the Jan. 10 Western Michigan game, Notre Dame ranked last in the nation in power-play goals.
"It's obviously frustrating when we have the personnel that we do, and we know we should be scoring," Hinostroza said.
Now, the Fighting Irish are the ones dealing out the punches.
Since the Western Michigan game, Notre Dame has put together one of the nation's hottest power-play streaks. The Irish have lit the lamp on power-play opportunities in six consecutive games. The Irish, Boston University, Michigan, Massachusetts and St. Cloud State share the nation's longest current streak -- six games -- for power-point goals.
Notre Dame only scored six power-play goals in its first 21 games, but the Irish have slugged the opposition for eight power-play goals in their last six games. Only Boston University, with 13 power-play goals in its last six games, can top the Irish surge in the same span.
Coach Jeff Jackson has seen his Irish zoom from six percent efficiency on the power play (five for 83) to 30 percent (eight for 27) over the last six games.
"We had enough issues with that in the early part of the season," Jackson said of the early power-play drought. "As crazy as it is, it was just a matter of switching the point guys from what we had. It's chemistry. They found some chemistry.
"From my experience, as long as you have the right personnel, the type of players on the ice ... it's the chemistry of the group. You wouldn't have expected it, with Vinnie Hinostroza and Mario Lucia being two of our more productive offensive players, and Andy Ryan, and a freshman, Jordan Gross. Robbie Russo was there for three months. As good as Robbie has been, it wasn't working for some reason."
In Notre Dame's recent six-game power-play surge, Thomas DiPauli and Lucia have scored two goals each, and Anders Bjork, Austin Wuthrich and Hinostroza have scored one goal each.
"We have too much ability to be where we were," Jackson said of the Irish ranking last at one time in the power-play statistics. "It may be the one shining part of our game right now."
As Jackson develops a young Irish squad, he adjusted the personnel to turn the power-play into a major weapon for the Irish.
DiPauli, Lucia and Hinostroza have forged one fierce power-play unit, and Russo (the nation's leading scorer as a defenseman), and Steven Fogarty lead the other power-play unit.
"I think we just got the right pieces together," Lucia said of unleashing power-play firepower in the last six games. "A power play is all about fitting the puzzle together with the right players and finding the right chemistry that works. It took a little while to find that, but now it's starting to click and that's good. We have to keep that going.
"You have to be instinctive on the power play. When Russo was on the power play, he likes to be the guy who is the shooter, and Vinnie also likes to be the guy who has the puck. I feel like when those two were together on our power play, I felt like it was two pieces that were different. Once they separated those two, each guy kind of runs their power play. Robbie runs his power play, and Vinnie runs his power play. I think when we figured that out, it helped us a lot."
DiPauli said that familiarity is essential for power-play success.
"I think Vinnie, Mario and I do a good job of getting pucks back and knowing where each other is," DiPauli said. "Vinnie, Mario and I were roommates, and we're really good friends. We're really good at knowing where we are. I usually get the pucks back and am more of an aggressive player on the power play. Mario sits in his office, back door, and puts in the goals, and Vinnie makes a lot of the plays. It's a good combination that we have.
"You have to have a feel for the personality of each individual. You get a feel for where they are going to be. On Vinnie's goal (against New Hampshire), I just turned the puck, and I knew where he was. Little things like that--instinct, chemistry--can make you successful."
According to Hinostroza, Jackson helped the Irish find their power by changing personnel, amping up the pressure on face-offs and stressing a need to kick up the effort level.
"We've been getting a lot of pressure off face-offs, which is huge," Hinostroza said. "Coach has been stressing winning face-offs and getting retrievals. If you get those, you're going to get good scoring chances, and that's what we've been doing lately.
"Coach Jackson and Coach (Paul) Pooley also really stressed that we need to outwork the other team, even though we have more guys on the ice on the power play," Hinostroza said. "That was our mindset. We forgot about the first half concerning the power play and moved forward, and it's been great since then."
According to Hinostroza, even if the Irish don't come away with a goal on a power-play, Notre Dame can gain from going on the offensive.
"I think the power play, even if you don't score, you want to have a good attack to get your team momentum," Hinostroza said. "If you get momentum five on four, it's going to carry over to the next shift."
It's a momentum the Irish hope will carry into the second half of the season and allow Notre Dame to bring the power to the Hockey East Tournament in March.
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent