Nov. 7, 2013
Notre Dame, Ind. -
After two weeks on the road, Notre Dame returns home to start a four-game home stand that will run through November 16. This weekend, November 8-9, the Irish will face off against the number one team in the nation, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The two teams will tangle at 8:05 p.m. on Friday night and then meet again on Saturday in a 7:05 p.m. contest.
For Notre Dame hockey fans trying to remember the last time Minnesota played in Indiana, well, the best way to put it is that their current coach, Don Lucia, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1981, was in the Irish lineup for both games at the Joyce Center. The Gophers last visited Michiana on Feb. 29-March 1, 1980, just a week after the U.S. hockey team won the gold medal at Lake Placid in the 1980 Olympics.
The Irish come into this weekend's series ranked third in the USA Today/U.S. Hockey Magazine poll and fourth in the USCHO.com poll. The last time the two teams met - Jan. 8, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minn. - the Gophers were ranked No. 1 while the Irish were #3/#2. Minnesota won that game, 4-1, at Mariucci Arena.
IRISH VERSUS THE GOPHERS
Notre Dame and Minnesota have met 39 times in the all-time series with the Gophers holding a 23-13-3 advantage. In games played at Notre Dame (all at the Joyce Center), Minnesota is 5-4-1. In 10 seasons as members of the WCHA from 1971-81, the teams faced off 28 times with Minnesota holding a 14-11-3 edge in those battles. The Irish and the Gophers began playing during the 1924-25 season and met six times between `24-'25 and 1926-27 with all the games played in Minneapolis and Minnesota winning five of the six meetings. Over the last two seasons, the Irish have faced the Gophers at Mariucci Arena once each year, taking a 4-3 win in 2011-12 before losing 3-1 last January.
This season, Minnesota, now playing in the Big Ten Conference is 5-0-1 on the year and coming off a bye week. The Gophers success is no surprise to Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson.
"The fact that they are ranked number one certainly isn't surprising and the fact that are guys are excited to play them at home, gives this series a different feel compared to playing them last year," says Jackson.
"Give them (Minnesota) credit. They lost five upperclassmen to the NHL plus some important seniors; they lost a lot of talent from that team last year. They had some talented players coming back and they've added some freshmen that are having an immediate impact. It's impressive that they can bring in impact players to replace impact players. Not many schools can do that."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
The Notre Dame - Minnesota series has an interesting twist to it since the Gophers' head coach - Don Lucia is a 1981 graduate of Notre Dame and his youngest son, Mario, is a sophomore on the Irish hockey team. As a player at Notre Dame, Lucia was a 6-0, 185-pound defenseman for Coach Lefty Smith. He played in 124 games on the Irish blue line and had seven goals and 23 assists for 30 points. As a head coach, Lucia is in his 15th season at Minnesota where he has compiled a 349-182-60 record and has won a pair of national championships. His 27-year coaching career has taken him to Alaska Fairbanks, Colorado College and Minnesota and his overall record is 628-337-89. During his coaching career, he has faced Notre Dame eight times and owns a 6-2-0 record. Mario is a 6-3, 202-pound left wing for the Irish who has played in 40 career games and has 14 goals with 12 assists for 26 points. He has faced his father once, making his homecoming last Jan. 8, where he and his Notre Dame teammates fell to Minnesota, 4-1.
"This whole weekend is exciting for everyone at Notre Dame just because the number one team in the nation is coming into town," says Mario Lucia.
"It's great for our fans, for our team, for our program. It will be a good measurement for just where our program is. I think its neat to finally be playing them (Minnesota) at home since we've played the last two years on the road and Mariucci is a tough environment for visiting teams to play in. We'll get to give them a taste of what the Compton is like."
While Don Lucia has served as Mario's coach throughout his career, he now watches his son more as a dad, according to Mario.
"When he gets to see me play, he'll tell me things that he notices that I need to work on things like that," says Mario Lucia.
"When we talk on the phone, we usually just talk about how's school going, what I'm doing. He's been a dad more so since I've been at Notre Dame. He really isn't a coach any more, he's just my dad because he knows that I am in good hands. He will always be there to help me to succeed, but now he's just kind of sitting back and watching and he's proud of me and just wants me to do well."
Another member of the Minnesota coaching staff - associate head coach Mike Guentzell - also sent one of his sons to Notre Dame. He is the father of 2011 graduate Ryan Guentzell who was a member of two Frozen Four teams.
SENIOR CLASS AWARD
Notre Dame senior defenseman Stephen Johns (Wampum, Pa.) has been selected as one of 20 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award that goes to student-athletes who excel both on and off the ice. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence - community, classroom, character and competition.
An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.
Johns is one of the team's alternate captains for the 2013-14 season and has proven to be one of the team leaders over the course of his career. For the second year in a row, he is spearheading the Notre Dame hockey team's involvement in the M is for Movember, a month-long event where the players grow mustaches to bring awareness to men's health issues that include prostate cancer and testicular cancer. Last year, Johns and his teammates helped raise over $4,500 to contribute to the national campaign. He has been involved in many of the team's community service projects during his Notre Dame career and volunteers with his hometown volunteer fire department in Ellwood City, Pa.
As a player, Johns has been a four-year regular on the Notre Dame defense and was winner of the team's William Donald Nyrop Award as the top defenseman in 2011-12. He has played in 132 career games with eight goals and 33 assists for 41 points.
In the classroom, Johns is a marketing major in the Mendoza College of Business and has a 2.911 grade-point average.
He is joined by:
Mac Bennett, Michigan Cole Ikkala, Union (N.Y.)
Jack Berger, Princeton Andy Iles, Cornell
Sam Brittain, Denver Stephen Johns, Notre Dame
Greg Carey, St. Lawrence Nick Jones, Mercyhurst
Scott Czarnowczan, Ferris State Dennis Robertson, Brown
Nic Dowd, St. Cloud State Kevin Ryan, Niagara
Kyle Gibbons, Canisius Steven Shamanski, Providence
Kevin Goumas, New Hampshire Dillon Simpson, North Dakota
Jordan Heywood, Merrimack Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha
Brock Higgs, Rensselaer Polytechnic Matt Zarbo, Clarkson
The Irish played their first two Hockey East games last weekend in Vermont where they lost the opening game, 2-1, before pulling out the second game, 3-2, on a pair of Sam Herr goals 1:02 apart late in the third period. Prior to Friday night's opening game, the Catamounts played gracious hosts, welcoming the Irish to the conference with a special pregame ceremony. Catamounts captain Chris McCarthy presented Irish captain Jeff Costello with a plaque that welcomed Notre Dame to the conference. Following that Costello and Vermont captain H.T. Lenz met for a ceremonial face off with Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, dropping the first puck. Notre Dame will play its first home Hockey East games next weekend, Nov. 15-16, when the Irish play host to the Merrimack College Warriors at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN HOCKEY EAST
All 11 Hockey East teams have now played at least two league contests and the early results have Boston College, UMass.-Lowell and Boston University tied at the top of the standings with four points. BC and UML are 2-0-0 while the Terriers of BU are 2-1-0, having played three games ... Boston College swept Northeastern with 4-2 and 4-3 overtime wins as freshman Ryan Fitzgerald scored a goal in each of the games for the Eagles. The Huskies got a goal in each game from freshman Mike Szmatula to extend his point streak to eight games (3g, 10a) ... UMass.-Lowell took a pair of games from New Hampshire, winning 5-3 at home and then 3-2 in overtime at UNH ... River Hawks' defenseman Zack Kamrass set up four of UMass.-Lowell's goals on the weekend, getting one assist in the 5-3 win before assisting on all three in the second game, including setting up the game-winning goal ... senior forward Kevin Goumas became the 71st player in UNH hockey history to reach the 100-point mark in his career ... the Wildcats are 0-5-1 in their last six games with all six coming versus nationally ranked teams ... Boston University and Providence split their series last week, each team winning their home game ... it seemed appropriate then that BU's Danny O'Regan and PC's Ross Mauermann were named Hockey East's co-players of the week ... O'Regan, a freshman, scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in Friday's 4-3 win at BU and added an assist at Providence ... Mauermann, a junior, had five points on the weekend, getting three goals and two assists in the two games, including two goals and an assist in the 3-1 win at home on Saturday ... UMass goaltender Steve Mastalerz stopped 64-of-66 shots (.970) to help the Minutemen to a 1-1 tie and a 2-1 win over Maine and was the Hockey East defensive player of the week ... the 2-1 loss by the Black Bears on Saturday night snapped a four-game unbeaten streak ... Merrimack played a non-league game against Bentley, taking a 3-1 home win .... after going the first five games of the season by giving up the first goal of the game, the Warriors finally got on the board first in the win against the Falcons and are 3-3-0 on the year.