Oct. 26, 2015
By Curt Rallo
Bobby Nardella weaved through No. 5-ranked Minnesota Duluth’s heralded defense and found Andrew Oglevie midway through the first period of Saturday night’s college hockey game between the University of Notre Dame and the Bulldogs.
From there Oglevie ricocheted a pass off of the boards.
Dylan Malmquist quickly gained control, skating on the left side past a Minnesota Duluth defender, and fired off a wrister that snuck in for Notre Dame’s first goal.
Goal Malmquist, assist Oglevie, assist Nardella–a freshman trifecta for coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish.
In the second period, Malmquist turned a face-off win by Jake Evans into a laser that torched the Bulldogs for a goal.
Notre Dame posted back-to-back 3-3 ties against a top-five Minnesota Duluth team that just a week earlier dominated No. 13 Minnesota 3-1 and 3-0–and Irish freshmen turned in difference-making moments.
Jackson said this season’s freshman class has the talent to make an impact for the Irish this season and provide critical depth. The veteran Irish coach and his staff enable the freshmen to thrive by putting them in situations where they can excel.
“We try to put them in positions where they are going to succeed,” Jackson said of how to enable freshmen to make important contributions as they develop their games.
“I think (left wing) Malmquist could eventually be a penalty killer for us, but right now we’re just being patient with him, just using him on the power play, because of his offensive skills. But he has the instincts and he competes hard, and that’s a good sign for a penalty killer. At some point, he might earn time in that area, too, but I don’t want to give him too much too soon.”
Jackson’s strategy of putting the freshmen in situations where they can succeed made an impact in an impressive weekend for the Irish. It’s a strategy Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin understands.
“Sometimes it’s putting those kids in the right opportunities to succeed early and letting them run with that, if they take advantage of that,” Sandelin said of helping freshmen transition to the college game.
“But for any freshman to come in, sometimes it’s being put in the right situations given that opportunity. Usually good players find a way to succeed.”
Jackson and the Irish staff assembled a recruiting class that has succeeded in the situation’s they have been put in early this season.
“We’ve got guys like Malmquist, who is right out of high school, and Bobby Nardella, and he made some really, really nice plays with the puck,” Jackson said. “That’s why we recruited them. They are talented players. They have good hockey sense. They have a good hockey IQ. It’s getting acclimated to the speed and the physicality of the college game.
“It’s the intensity level. If they played junior hockey, it’s intense, but it’s not the same as college hockey, where you’re preparing all week … you play two games on the weekend. Generally, when you play the same opponent two nights, it’s a challenging event, to try to beat a team twice in a row … because everybody is figuring each other out.”
Nardella, a defenseman, impressed Jackson with his composure against a top-five team.
“(Nardella) shows his instincts on the breakout, through the neutral zone, obviously in the point,” Jackson said. “He’s just got poise. That’s something you can’t teach as a coach. His dad had poise, too. I remember coaching against his dad at Ferris State. Same type of player. Very similar. I think Bobby inherited his dad’s instincts for the game.”
Jackson said the Irish freshmen fit a variety of needs for Notre Dame.
“(Left wing) Joe Wegwerth is a big body,” Jackson said. “He takes up a lot of space. He’s good in the offensive zone. He’s a much different guy than the other guys.
“(Center) Andrew Oglevie is a great skater. He’s got good hockey sense. I think (center/right wing) Jack Jenkins hasn’t gotten much of a chance yet, but he’s another guy who is a fast skater and we have to find a role for him at some point.”
Defenseman Dennis Gilbert also turned in an impressive performance against rugged competition.
“(Gilbert) has a real high ceiling in my opinion,” Jackson said. “He’s a kid who has only played two years of high-level hockey. He played in Buffalo for the Junior Sabres, and he played for the Chicago Steel. Prior to that, he was a three-sport athlete. He played lacrosse, football and high school hockey. He’s just in the beginning of where he is going to go as a player. He’s a great skater, he has pretty good puck skills, good instincts, good shot … he’s got a bright future.”
Notre Dame’s play this weekend against Minnesota Duluth showcased the way the Irish freshmen can contribute to a successful season.
“There were points in time in the first period that I think we started to see what this team is going to be capable of once we get consistent in our game,” Jackson said. “It showed at Penn State last week, too. There are glimpses of what we can do with our speed and our transition game. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. It’s early in the year, and it’s a lot of young guys. Over time, I would assume they have a chance to be pretty good.”
Curt Rallo is a special correspondent for Fighting Irish Media.