Oct. 4, 2007
Notre Dame, Ind. - The Notre Dame hockey team begins preparations for the 2007-08 season on Saturday, October 6 with the first official practice of the season at 7:00 a.m. at the Joyce Center Rink.
Head coach Jeff Jackson and his staff will have just six days to get the Irish ready for the season opener on Friday, October 12 when Notre Dame faces Wisconsin in the 5:05 p.m. game at the Lefty McFadden Invitational at Nutter Arena in Dayton, Ohio. Ohio State and Mercyhurst play in the second game of the opening round with the third-place and championship games set for 4:35 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. on Saturday night.
The lone chance that the staff and Irish hockey fans will have to see the team in action will come on Wednesday, Oct. 10th when they host the third annual "Drop The Puck" Reception, followed by the Blue/Gold game at 7:35 p.m. at the Joyce Center.
The "Drop The Puck" Reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Joyce Center Field House and will feature former Detroit Red Wing great and current vice-president Steve Yzerman as the guest speaker.
At 7:35 p.m. the action moves over to the ice, as the Blue will face the Gold team under the watchful eye of Jackson and his staff.
Here's a look at the 2007-08 Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team:
SETTING THE "GOLD STANDARD"
The 2006-07 Notre Dame hockey campaign will go down as the best season in the program's first 39 seasons.
The Irish set the standard by which future teams will be judged - 32 wins and a 32-7-3 season, the first CCHA regular-season and tournament championships, seven-consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation, a regular-season tournament win at the Lightning College Hockey Classic, a Hobey Baker finalist - the list goes on as the "Gold Standard" was set very high.
But, when the 2007-08 version of the team hits the ice versus Wisconsin in the opening game of the Lefty McFadden Invitational on Oct. 12, it will be a different lineup facing the Badgers.
Led by All-American and Hobey Baker finalist, goaltender David Brown, last year's Notre Dame squad achieved its' success with a stifling veteran defense, outstanding special team play, timely scoring and a senior class that provided outstanding leadership.
"This is a new team and it's a new season," says Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, now in his third year behind the Notre Dame bench.
"We have a lot to be proud about from last season, but we have new players with our freshman class and we have guys who will be in different roles. It's natural to talk about last year, but we can't let it impact our approach to this season."
Jackson and his staff return a talented group from a year ago, including the top five scorers. The biggest losses come in goal, on defense and in the leadership department an area where last year's senior class excelled. A year ago, the Irish led the nation in team goals-against average (1.67), scoring margin (+1.74) and penalty killing (.904) on the way to their second NCAA Tournament appearance. Brown was tops in the nation with 30 wins, a 1.58 goals-against average while tying for second with a .931 save percentage and six shutouts.
Finding a replacement for Brown will be a priority for Jackson and his staff.
The top returnee is junior Jordan Pearce (Anchorage, Alaska) who has served as Brown's back up the last two seasons. Pearce was 2-1-0 in three appearances a year ago with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage. In 12 career appearances, he was 6-5-0 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage with a pair of shutouts. Pearce is big at 6-1, 207 and does a great job of covering the net. He has shown that he can play at a high level in his limited opportunities.
"Jordan (Pearce) has paid his dues and has the ability and respect of his teammates. It's his time and I think he's ready for the challenge of
proving himself," says Jackson.
"The key will be him getting some early confidence. He has shown signs of brilliance when he's played in the past."
Joining Pearce in the goaltending rotation are sophomore Tom O'Brien (Mokena, Ill.) and freshman Brad Phillips (Farmington Hills, Mich.). O'Brien did not see any game action last year but has an opportunity this season. A technically sound goaltender, the sophomore is one of the hardest working players on the team and will make the goaltending battle a competitive three-way challenge.
"No one works harder than Tommy (O'Brien)." says Jackson. "He will make things competitive this season. He's got a great spirit to compete and should be a factor."
Phillips comes to the Irish from the U.S. National Team Development Program where he had a strong season for the Under-18 team last season. One of the top goaltenders in his age group, Phillips was 15-5-2 last season with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. The Philadelphia Flyers selected him in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. At 6-2, 171 pounds, Phillips is a butterfly goaltender who uses his size and quickness to cover the net.
"I believe that Brad (Phillips) has as much ability as any goaltender that I have recruited," explains Jackson.
"He was up-and-down last year and just needs to regain his confidence. He's got a tremendous work ethic and with his competitiveness and ability can become an elite goaltender."
"It's always tough to when you have to replace someone like David Brown who played so many minutes for us. I believe we have three goaltenders that with experience can give us strong goaltending this season," says Jackson.
A key to Brown's success a year ago was the play of his veteran, senior-led defense. Gone to graduation are Noah Babin, Wes O'Neill and Tom Sawatske, a trio that gobbled up plenty of ice time. Babin was an honorable mention all-CCHA selection while turning in his best season. O'Neill was a four-year regular while Sawatske played a key role in his two seasons with the Irish.
The top returnee on the blue line is senior Brock Sheahan (Lethbridge, Alb.) who combined with the three seniors to give Notre Dame a veteran foursome a year ago.
Sheahan is a fierce, fiery defender who will be one of the team's leaders this season. A finalist for the CCHA's top defensive defenseman award as a junior, he scored three goals and added five assists while being +20 on the year.
Sheahan plays a physical, hard-nosed style of defense - blocking shots, battling in the corners and in front of the net - the things that don't show up in the box score.
"Brock will have a big impact on our defense this season," says Jackson.
"There is no one who competes harder. He's got such great intensity and desire on the ice. He leads by example. I think he's one of the best defensive defensemen in the entire country."
Joining Sheahan from the senior class is Dan VeNard (Vernon Hills, Ill.). A tenacious defensive defenseman, he leads by example on and off the ice. Throughout his Notre Dame career, he has been a solid contributor but has battled injuries. He played in 17 games last season, picking up four assists and was +9 in those games.
"Dan is one of the most respected players on our team. He's got his priorities in line and is committed to the success of our team," comments Jackson.
Blatchford had two goals and 15 assists for 17 points in 30 games and proved to be an outstanding playmaker and power-play performer. He plays a smart, intelligent game and shows poise with the puck.
Lawson was one of three Irish freshmen selected to the CCHA all-rookie team after scoring four goals with 15 assists for 19 points and was +21 for the season. A smooth, steady defenseman, Lawson isn't flashy but contributed in all aspects on the Notre Dame defense.
"Brett really came on as the season progressed and he and Kyle played well together. He's a smart player who knows how to put himself in the right place on the ice," explains Jackson.
"Kyle Lawson played like an upper classmen. He's a very competitive player who isn't flashy but plays a strong, steady game. He's a winner," adds the Irish head coach.
Returning to the Notre Dame defense this season is junior defenseman Luke Lucyk (Fox Point, Wis.). He played for the Irish from 2004-06 but returned to his junior team (Tri-City Storm of the USHL) last season to work on his all-around game. With the Storm, Lucyk was second among defensemen in scoring with nine goals and 13 assists in 59 games.
"I give Luke a lot of credit as he made the commitment to get more experience and become a better player by returning to juniors. He is making a fresh start and came back ready to compete for a spot in the lineup," says Jackson.
Sophomore Stewart Carlin (Jeannette, Pa.) moves back to defense after spending his freshman year at forward. A strong skater with excellent hockey instincts, he will look to join the regular rotation on defense.
"Stewart has worked hard over the last year. I know it's hard when you aren't playing, but he knows that there are opportunities and the future is now. He's an outstanding representative of the program," explains Jackson.
Both players bring a big, physical style of play to the ice and have plenty of potential. The St. Louis Blues selected Cole (6-1, 215) in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft while Ruth (6-0, 201) was a second-round choice of the Washington Capitals.
Both are stay-at-home defenders with good hands and excellent hockey skills. Cole had four goals and 16 assists in 49 games with the Under-18 team last season. Ruth checked in with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 39 games.
"Ian and Teddy bring a high level of talent to our defense. They just need time to get the experience of playing at this level," says Jackson.
"They've both made great strides over the last two years and have the skill to play at the highest level."
While the Notre Dame backline has plenty of skill and will look to add experience to the resume, the Irish offense has plenty of both. Jackson's team returns its top five scorers from `06-'07 and has added several talented newcomers to the mix.
The Irish do lose some experience as four seniors have moved on after graduating last May. Gone are two-year captain T.J. Jindra and three-year leader Jason Paige along with veterans Josh Sciba and Michael Bartlett. All four were four-year letter winners and provided key leadership. Jindra (2g, 7a) was the team leader on and off the ice in each of Jackson's first two seasons, as well as, being one of the team's top defensive forwards.
Paige had a career year last season, scoring 11 goals and 11 assists in 42 games. One of the top face-off men in the CCHA, he also played a hard-nosed aggressive style.
Sciba had eight goals and 10 assists for the year and missed part of the season with a broken arm. A key member of the Irish power play, Sciba finished his career with 19 power-play goals with the Irish. Bartlett (3g, 8a) brought versatility to the lineup as he played at both left and right wing. A strong skater, he was also one of the team's top penalty killers for most of his career.
This season, the scoring will be spread out among the classes, as the top five are a senior, two juniors and two sophomores.
The Irish improved their offense last season, seeing their goal total jump from 89 in `05-'06 to 143 last season, an increase of 54 goals.
Leading the way is junior Erik Condra (Livonia, Mich.). The 6-0, 202-pound right wing is the catalyst for the Notre Dame offense. A strong, talented playmaker, Condra sees the ice well and has developed a nice scoring touch around the net. As a sophomore, he led the Irish with 14 goals and 34 assists for 48 points to rank sixth among all CCHA scorers and was an honorable mention all-CCHA selection.
"Erik has really become a complete player for us, a guy that we rely on in all situations," says Jackson.
"He's got great instincts with the puck and comes to play every day. Erik has that uncanny ability to make something happen whenever he's around the puck."
A pair of sophomores joins Condra at the top of the score sheet after playing on the same line a year ago.
Playing on the left side with Condra was Ryan Thang (Edina, Minn.) and the center for the high-scoring trio was Kevin Deeth (Gig Harbor, Wash.). Thang (6-0, 200) led Notre Dame in goals (20), power-play goals (10) and game winners (6) while finishing second to Condra with 41 points. A member of the CCHA all-rookie team, he was a finalist for conference rookie-of-the-year honors.
A prototypical power forward, Thang also has excellent playmaking skills as evidenced by his 21 assists. He sees plenty of ice time as he plays in all situations.
Thang was rewarded for his strong rookie year as the Nashville Predators selected him in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft.
"Ryan came in and had a tremendous freshman season, not just in scoring, but in his overall game," explains Jackson.
"He's a very focused individual with great character and a tremendous work ethic. We'll be counting on him to have a great sophomore year." Right behind Condra and Thang was Deeth who served as the spark plug on the line with his great speed and tremendous stickhandling skills. Deeth scored 17 goals and added 22 assists for 39 points, including six power-play goals and three game winners. He was the third Irish player to be selected to the CCHA all-rookie team.
"Kevin, like Ryan, had a tremendous freshman year as both lived up to their billing. He's a smart, skilled player with great instincts on the ice. He has a passion for the game and is a threat on every shift," Jackson says. Fourth among the returning scorers is senior Mark Van Guilder (Roseville, Minn.) who was second in goals with 18 and added 16 assists for 34 points.
A versatile player who can play all three forward positions, Van Guilder is the team's leader. He enters the season having played in 116 consecutive games.
He's developed into an offensive threat during his career going from three goals as a freshman to eight as a sophomore to 18 last season. A smart player with outstanding hockey instincts, Van Guilder will see action in all situations for Jackson's icers.
"Mark has established himself as one of the premier two-way players in the CCHA," says Jackson.
"He has great hockey instincts and is one of our leaders. He will be counted on to show the way to our younger players."
Rounding out the top five scorers is junior Garrett Regan (Hastings, Minn.). Regan was Notre Dame's most-improved player as a sophomore as he scored 14 goals with 12 assists for 26 points. Four of his goals were power-play tallies and he added four game winners.
Regan worked his way into more ice time as a sophomore and the results paid off. He uses his speed to open the ice for his linemates and to disrupt the opposition on the forecheck. He will be a key member of the power play and penalty-killing units again this season.
"Garrett came on strong last season. His speed causes problems for opponents and he became a real offensive threat for us," says Jackson.
"He was a standout on our penalty-killing unit, taking the draw and playing an aggressive style that made us very effective."
The Irish coaching staff will look for several other players to make the most of increased playing time and add to the team's goal-scoring totals. Senior right wing Evan Rankin (Portage, Mich.) will be one of those who will have a chance to contribute. Rankin had four goals and three assists for seven points in 31 games last season. A hard-working forward, Rankin has the ability to disrupt the defense with his tenacious checking style.
"Evan elevated his game last season and has the potential to be an offensive force," Jackson says.
"He's got a tremendous work ethic and a great attitude. He enjoys the physical play and competes hard on every shift."
Another senior who will battle for playing time is Brian D'Arcy (Western Springs, Ill.). The 6-2, 201-pounder will move from defense to right wing to take advantage of his size and aggressiveness. He has played in just 10 games for his career but is one of the hardest working players on the team.
"Brian is as committed to this program as any other player we have here," Jackson says.
"He makes the most of every opportunity and has a passion for this program and for Notre Dame. He understands the game and executes the system while pushing the others to be better players."
Two juniors who became key players last season will look to add to the attack in their third seasons with the Irish.
Center Christian Hanson (Venetia, Pa.) brings size (6-4, 225) and skill to the lineup. A solid, two-way player, he figures to inherit Jason Paige's role as the team's top face-off man. Hanson had six goals and two assists last season while winning 59.1% of his face offs.
"This could be a break out year for Christian. He showed me a lot last year when he battled back late in the season after having mono," says Jackson.
"He's worked hard to become stronger. He will most likely play against the top line's center this season."
Joining Hanson with a strong second season in `06-'07 was Justin White (Traverse City, Mich.).
A solid two-way forward, White blossomed offensively proving to be a talented playmaker that became a quarterback on the Irish power play. White played in 29 games with two goals and 13 assists on the season.
"Justin took a big step last year and made a huge transition in his approach to the game to earn a chance. He has good offensive instincts and showed the ability to move the puck. That really helped make him a threat on the power play," says Jackson."
At 5-9, 178 pounds, Kissel plays on the left side and brings speed and skill to the lineup. He saw action in 22 games, scoring six goals with three assists for nine points. Among his six goals were three power-play tallies, a short-handed goal and three game winners.
"Dan Kissel is on the cusp of being a gifted collegiate player. His speed, hands and one-on-one offensive skills are as good as anyone on the team," says Jackson.
Minella checks in at 6-1, 216 pounds and brings a physical style to the lineup. A powerful hitter, Minella is a demon on the forecheck and does a good job of disrupting the defense. He had one goal and five assists in 21 games.
"Christiaan made big strides last season in understanding the game and playing without the puck. The physical element that he brings to the game is an absolute must. He skates well and has a good shot. He can be a big factor for us this season," Jackson comments.
Besides the returning players, the Irish have added four talented and highly skilled freshmen to the offensive mix.
Two of the newcomers - Robin Bergman and Calle Ridderwall - are the first Notre Dame hockey players from Sweden as they both hail from Stockholm and are products of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Right wing Ryan Guentzel (Woodbury, Minn.) and center Ben Ryan (Brighton, Mich.) round out the freshman forwards.
Bergman (6-0, 195) played last season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders where he scored 26 goals and 17 assists for 43 points. His 17 power-play goals were second in the USHL. A talented left-shot forward, Bergman has excellent hockey skills and instincts and a nice touch around the net.
Ridderwall (5-11, 172) was a member of the Tri-City Storm where he led the team in scoring with 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points from the left side. An outstanding skater with tremendous speed, Ridderwall combines great hands and great instincts around the net.
Guentzel (6-0, 176) joins the Irish after helping lead the Sioux Falls Stampede to the USHL title last season. A talented and versatile player, he can play either right wing or center. He was second on the Stampede in scoring with nine goals and 38 assists for 47 points.
Ryan (5-11, 190) joins the Irish after playing two seasons for the Des Moines Buccaneers where he finished third in scoring with 22 goals and 42 assists for 64 points. A complete, two-way player, Ryan is a creative playmaker with a nice scoring touch and should contribute to the Irish attack this season.
The Nashville Predators thought enough of him to select him in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
"Our freshmen will have a chance to contribute this season. Calle and Robin are both highly skilled players that will have to adapt to the physical play in the CCHA. Ryan Guentzel has a great attitude and a willingness to work on his strength and skating. He's a great late edition to the class. Ben Ryan is a complete two-way player. He's creative and intelligent with the puck and strong in the defensive zone," Jackson says.
The Irish will look to continue their successes on special teams in 2007-08. The Irish scored 45 power-play goals on 243 chances for an 18.5% success rate and ranked 20th overall. The penalty killers led the nation, giving up just 20 opponent man-advantage goals in 209 chances for a school-record 90.4% success rate.
"Special teams were one of the keys to our success last season. I think our power play can improve as our skill level improves. On the penalty kill should be as good with the guys up front. We have our top guys back. The key will be in goal and on defense where we will be inexperienced. Our physical defense will help but the best penalty killer is the goaltender. That will be the key there," Jackson says.
The Irish face a tough schedule during 2007-08 and will have a target on their back after last season.
Notre Dame will play in three tournaments this season, opening the campaign at the Lefty McFadden Invitational, playing Wisconsin in the opener and either Ohio State or Mercyhurst in game two.
At Thanksgiving, the Irish travel to Troy, N.Y., to play in the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament. They will get an NCAA Tournament rematch with Alabama-Huntsville in the tourney opener and then play either R.P.I. or American International College (AIC) in the second game.
In late December, Notre Dame will defend its' Lightning College Hockey Classic title in Tampa, Fla., when the Irish face Massachusetts in the opener and then either Colorado College or R.P.I. the following day.
The Irish also will play two non-conference series, hosting Denver (Oct. 12-13) while traveling to Princeton (Dec. 7-8). They also face the U.S. Under-18 Team in an exhibition game at the Joyce Center on Feb. 1.
In the CCHA, the Irish are teamed with Bowling Green, Ferris State and Western Michigan in the same cluster and will play each team four times. Notre Dame will have home-and-home series with Michigan State and Michigan (with the Irish home game vs. the Wolverines at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.) and play two-game series at home with Lake Superior, Nebraska-Omaha and Ohio State while traveling to Miami, Northern Michigan and Alaska for two games.