Oct. 8, 2008
Notre Dame, Ind. –
So what does Notre Dame do for an encore in 2008-09? The Irish set the bar very high over the last two seasons, starting in 2006-07 when they won their first CCHA regular-season and tournament title while going 32-7-3.
They followed that by coming out of the pack in 2007-08, making it to the NCAA Tournament as the last at-large team and proceeded to go all the way to the national championship game against Boston College.
One thing’s for sure; teams around the country and especially the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) now know that the Irish are for real.
Over the past two seasons, Notre Dame has compiled a 59-23-7 record. The 59 wins ties the Irish for the most in the nation (with Michigan) over the last two seasons and ranks them third in winning percentage (.702), behind the Wolverines (.732) and Miami (.708).
The target on Jeff Jackson’s squads back just got much bigger.
“There’s no question that is true,” says Jackson. “We aren’t going to have teams play down to us like they have in the past. Hopefully that will make us better. We’re going to get everyone’s “A” game every night, which will make us elevate our level of play. That’s a good thing and a better problem to have than when we started three years ago.”
Notre Dame comes off a year that was made up of three parts – a fast early- season start (16-4-0 over the first 20 games), a scoring drought in January and February, followed by the late surge during the postseason.
Gone are five seniors who saw a little bit of everything during their careers.
Mark Van Guilder, Brock Sheahan, Dan VeNard, Evan Rankin and Brian D’Arcy were freshmen during the 2004-05 season that saw Notre Dame go 5-27-6 and then key players in the turnaround in Jackson’s first season in 2005-06, followed by the success of the last two seasons.
“We lose a group of five seniors who made key contributions over the last four years,” explains Jackson.
“We will miss Mark’s (Van Guilder) ability and leadership. Brock (Sheahan) played a tenacious style and the great ability to defend. Evan (Rankin), Danny (VeNard) and Brian (D’Arcy) were key contributors on and off the ice.
“We had guys make strides last year and now we need them to continue that progress. Guys like Christian Hanson, Calle Ridderwall, Danny Kissel and Brett Blatchford elevated their play. I look for Christiaan Minella, Ryan Guentzel and Luke Lucyk to take advantage of the opportunity to get more ice time this season,” added Jackson, now in his fourth season behind the Irish bench.
An area of strength for the Irish in `08-’09 figured to be in goal as Notre Dame returned senior Jordan Pearce (Anchorage, Alaska), sophomore Brad Phillips (Farmington Hills, Mich.) and junior Tom O’Brien (Mokena, Ill.) with sophomore Brian Brooke (Eden Prairie, Minn.) added to the mix.
That depth took a hit during the preseason when Phillips, who served as Pearce’s main back up, was lost for the year due to a knee injury.
Again this season, Jackson will look to Pearce to handle a majority of the work between the pipes.
Going into last season, goaltending was a question mark, but it didn’t take long for Pearce to erase those questions. All he did during his first season as a starter was set Notre Dame records for games played (43), games started (42) and minutes played (2,557:46). In those 43 games, the anthropology and pre-med major was 27-16-4 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage plus a pair of shutouts.
Notre Dame’s team most valuable player, Pearce was the CCHA’s top goaltender based on goals-against average as he gave up a stingy 1.80 goals per game against the conference.
Pearce also got it done in the classroom with a 3.816 grade-point average to take ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA second team Academic All-American honors on the At-Large team. He was Notre Dame’s nominee for the CCHA Scholar-Athlete Award and won the team’s Rockne Scholar-Athlete award.
“Jordan is coming of a good year and you have to remember that it was his first season as a starter,” says Jackson.
“This will be like his sophomore year. He’s a smart and motivated player who will look to get even better.”
Because of Pearce’s strong season, Phillips saw limited action but proved he has the tools to be a good one. In five games as a freshman, Phillips was 4-1-0 with a 1.53 goals-against average and a .923 save mark. He also chipped in a shutout among his five starts.
O’Brien moves up on the depth chart and has worked hard to get an opportunity to show what he can do. As a freshman, he was behind an All-American in David Brown `07 who saw most of the action. Last season, it was Pearce. That hasn’t diminished his drive and intensity to continue to improve for when his chance comes.
“Losing Brad (Phillips) will be tough, especially for his development. He really came back prepared to play and even with Jordan here, we would have to start preparing for the future,” says Jackson.
“I would have like to see Brad (Phillips) get more playing time and get a chance to see what Tom O’Brien can do.”
Junior defenseman Kyle Lawson was selected first team preseason all-CCHA heading into the 2008-09 season. He will be the leader of the Notre Dame defense.
Working in front of the Notre Dame goal is a young, talented corps of defenders that features four players who have been selected by teams from the National Hockey League.
The Irish blue line is made up of one senior, a pair of juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
The lone senior is Luke Lucyk (Fox Point, Wis.). A 6-1, 200-pound defender, Lucyk saw limited playing time last season, getting into just six games, notching a goal and an assist for two points. An offensive-minded defender, Lucyk has worked hard on his game and will look to break into the top six on the Irish blue line this year. He started his Notre Dame career in 2004-05, playing two seasons before returning to his junior team – Tri-City (USHL) for the 2006-07 campaign. He returned last season for his junior year but couldn’t break into the veteran lineup. Jackson has high hopes for the Wisconsin native in `08-’09.
“Luke is one of those guys that we will be looking to step in and fill the roles of those departed defensemen. It would be great if he could step in and have the kind of year that Danny VeNard had last season. He’s earned the opportunity and it will be up to him to show us that he can play at this level on a daily basis,” comments the fourth-year coach of the Irish.
The leader of the Notre Dame defense will be junior Kyle Lawson (New Hudson, Mich.). One of the top all-around defenders in the CCHA and the nation, Lawson has the complete game and should be in the running for postseason CCHA and All-American honors.
As a sophomore, the 5-11, 200-pounder was an honorable mention all-CCHA selection and led all Irish defensemen in scoring with five goals and 21 assists for 26 points with the 21 helpers being second on the team. He scored twice on the power play and also had two game winners. His +13 tied him for second on the team in that department.
Lawson will log plenty of minutes as he plays in all situations – even strength, on the power play and short-handed. When the game is on the line, Lawson, a Carolina Hurricane draft choice will be on the ice.
“There is no question that Kyle is the leader back on defense,” says Jackson.
“We will count on him in all situations. He’s a steady and solid player who has to be considered one of the better defensemen in the league. Most of all, he’s a winner.”
Fellow junior defenseman Brett Blatchford (Temperance, Mich.) has seen a great deal of action in his first two seasons.
Strong with the puck, Blatchford checks in at 5-11 and 198 pounds. A hard-working defender, he has seen plenty of duty quarterbacking the power play. As a sophomore, he played in 45 games, picking up 12 assists for the year and in two seasons has a pair of goals and 27 assists.
“Brett’s a smart player who handles the puck well and does a good job of finding the open man,” says Jackson.
“He’s one of our experienced players back there and will have the chance to help our power play improve.”
Both stepped into the regular lineup last season and never looked back as they played key roles in Notre Dame’s drive to the Frozen Four.
Big, strong and physical, the duo brings talent and skill to the Irish defense. Products of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program, Cole and Ruth continue to improve in all aspects of the game.
A first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Blues in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Cole is a 6-1, 216-pound defender who was second to Lawson in scoring for the defense. His eight goals and 12 assists included four power-play tallies and two game winners. The eight goals led all Notre Dame defensemen.
He started the year slowly but came on like gangbusters in the second half, scoring four goals with three assists in Notre Dame’s nine postseason games.
Highly skilled, Cole handles the puck well and proved to have a strong, accurate shot from the point.
At 6-1, 210 pounds, Ruth, like Cole, joined the Irish as a highly touted prospect and did not disappoint.
He had just two goals and three assists on the year but he teamed with Sheahan to form Notre Dame’s top shutdown duo. He tied Lawson for second on the team with a +13.
A true stay-at-home defender, Ruth made life difficult for opposing forwards. A defensive tactician, he was tough to beat to the outside because of his skating ability and equally tough to beat in front because of his physical style of play.
“Both Ian and Teddy came in and made significant contributions last season and we expected that from them,” says Jackson.
“They are two keys to the success of our defense and they will be counted on with (Kyle) Lawson to be the leaders back there.”
Joining the five returnees are three newcomers who figure to be in the fight for one of the last two spots on the Notre Dame blue line. The trio includes Nick Condon (Wausau, Wis.), Sean Lorenz (Littleton, Colo.) and Eric Ringel (Hinckley, Ohio).
Condon is the more experienced of the three as he has played three seasons of junior hockey while the other two are true freshmen, right out of high school.
Condon checks in at 5-8, 163-pounds and is a strong skater who handles the puck well.
He joins the Irish after splitting time between the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Marquette Rangers and St. Louis Bandits. Between the two teams he had four goals and 34 assists for 38 points to rank sixth among NAHL defensemen in scoring. He helped St. Louis in the postseason as the Bandits collected their second consecutive Robertson Cup title.
Lorenz is one of four Notre Dame defenseman on the roster to come from the U.S. National Team Developmental Program along with Lawson, Cole and Ruth. A 6-1, 192-pound right-handed shot, Lorenz plays a physical, stay-at-home style. He had four goals and five assists for nine points for the Under-18 team during the 2007-08 season.
Ringel joins the Irish after playing with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the NAHL in each of the last two seasons. In `07-’08, the 6-0, 189-pound defender had seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points to rank 15th among NAHL blueliners in the scoring department.
A smooth skating defender, Ringel saw his Phantom squad lose in the NAHL finals to Condon’s St. Louis team.
“The three defensemen that we’ve added in the freshman class all have the potential to break into the lineup,” says Jackson.
“Sean Lorenz might have an advantage, being a little more prepared, coming from the national program. Eric Ringel has a great deal of potential but will need to gain physical strength. He definitely has some offensive skills. Nick Condon is an older freshman who is a good skater and gives us more experience on the blue line.”
Experience will be a key for the Notre Dame forwards. Jackson’s squad returns five of its top six scorers, losing just Van Guilder and Rankin.
The Irish offense doesn’t have one standout performer, but has plenty of players who have shown the ability to put the puck in the net.
In `07-’08, Notre Dame scored 136 goals in 47 games for a 2.89 goals-per game average, down from the 3.40 average of the previous season.
Six players scored in double digits a year ago with the top goal scorer – junior Ryan Thang (Edina, Minn.), leading the team with 18.
The biggest concern for the Irish will be the power play where Notre Dame averaged over one man-advantage goal per game in `06-’07, scoring at an 18.5% success rate. Last season, the power play was just 39-of-264 for a 14.8% success mark.
“We don’t have a lot of pure scorers on the team,” says Jackson.
“We’ve got good scorers, but we need others to take their games to the next level. It’s a great asset to have Erik Condra back and healthy and we’ll need guys like Kevin Deeth and Ryan Thang to get off to a fast start and play with the confidence they did as freshmen. A key for this team will be getting the power play going again. We struggled with consistency last season and we need to get that back to have success this season.”
Senior captain Erik Condra has led the irish in scoring in each of his first three seasons. He was a first team all-CCHA preseason selection for the 2008-09 campaign.
Without question one of the keys to Notre Dame’s offense will be senior right wing Erik Condra (Livonia, Mich.) who has led the team in scoring in each of his first three seasons.
An all-CCHA and All-American candidate, Condra has proven to be a skilled playmaker with the ability to put the puck in the net. As a junior, he scored 15 goals with 23 assists for 38 points. Of his 15 goals, six came on the power play, three were short-handed and four were game winners.
Condra went down with a knee injury in game three of the second round playoff series with Ferris State and had surgery in the offseason, but is now back to full strength.
“It’s great to have Erik back at full speed,” says Jackson.
“He’s a key to our offensive success with his great instincts with the puck and is a leader both on and off the ice. He’s a player that we count on in all situations.”
Joining Condra in the senior class is Christian Hanson (Venetia, Pa.). The 6-4, 224-pound center came into his own as a junior, using his size and skill to make him a threat at the offensive end of the ice.
He had a career-best 13 goals and added nine assists for 22 points with one short-handed goal and one game winner.
Strong at both ends of the ice, Hanson is among the top face-off men in the CCHA, winning 60.3% of his face offs on the season. He had a strong postseason, scoring four goals, including three goals and an assist in the NCAA West Regional where he was named to the all-tournament team.
“Christian was one of those players who elevated his play last season and contributed to the offense. When he uses his size and skill, he’s tough to stop,” says Jackson.
The third senior forward is left wing Garrett Regan (Hastings, Minn.) who has been a regular contributor in his first three seasons.
As a junior, the 5-11, 192-pound Regan scored seven goals and added six assists for 13 points with two goals on the power play and one game winner. He got off to a strong start in `07-’08 before suffering a high ankle sprain in November that affected him through the remainder of the season.
Regan has outstanding speed and is strong on his skates. His speed opens the ice for his line mates and can disrupt the opposition in their zone. Throughout his career, Regan has been a member of the power play and penalty-killing units. He is a player that Jackson and his staff will count on to return to his junior form when he had 14 goals and 26 points.
Rounding out the senior forwards is Justin White (Traverse City, Mich.) who has seen duty at center and left wing during his career.
A strong, two-way forward, White had four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in `07-‘8 and was +8 on the year. He had four assists in the postseason, including setting up both of Calle Ridderwall’s goals in the overtime win against Michigan in the Frozen Four.
The veteran forward has good offensive instincts and is smart with the puck. He also has been an effective quarterback on the power play during his career.
Four key players on the Notre Dame attack are members of the junior class.
Leading the way is high-scoring left wing Ryan Thang who was led the team in goals with 18 and was second in scoring with 32 points. The team’s top pure goal-scoring threat, Thang had seven power-play goals, chipped in two short-handed tallies and led the Irish with five game-winning goals.
A 2007 draft choice of the Nashville Predators, Thang has proven to be a clutch scorer as he already has 11 game-winning goals in just two seasons at Notre Dame.
A prototypical power forward (6-1, 192), Thang is a right-handed shot who has excelled on the left side of the attack. He plays in all situations and ranks among the top returning goal scorers in the CCHA.
Speedy center Kevin Deeth had 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points last season. His speed opens things up on the ice for his linemates.
Notre Dame’s quickest skater is center Kevin Deeth (Gig Harbor, Wash.). The speedster has tremendous quickness, with great hands and a nose for the net. After a slow start in “07-’08, Deeth finished the season with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points. He had four power-play goals and one short-handed tally on the season.
“Ryan and Kevin are key players in our offense,” says Jackson.
“We’ll be counting on them to get off to fast starts like they did as freshmen. They are keys to getting our power play going. Both players are very focused and have a passion for the game. They can both be among the top forwards in the CCHA.”
Junior Dan Kissel (Crestwood, Ill.) had a breakout season during 2007-08 from his spot at left wing. Selected as the team’s most improved player as a sophomore, Kissel had nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points after getting nine points as a freshman.
Quick on his feet and a tenacious checker, Kissel excelled on the penalty-killing unit and made his mark with his hustle and hard work. At 5-9, 178 pounds, he can disrupt the opposition and turn their mistakes into scoring chances.
Rounding out the junior class of forwards is Christiaan Minella (Aurora, Colo.). A big, bruising right wing, Minella brings gives size and toughness to the Irish lineup. A 6-2, 209-pound right wing, he causes the opposition to know where he is at all times on the ice.
As a sophomore, Minella played in 29 games and had two assists. He’s a player who will have the chance to break into the regular lineup this season.
“Christiaan is one of the players who will have the opportunity to play a bigger role this year,” explains Jackson.
“He continues to improve his game and the physical element he brings to the lineup is important. He skates well and has a good shot. He can become a big factor for us.”
Three sophomores dot the Notre Dame roster with Ben Ryan (Brighton, Mich.) leading the trio on the scoresheet. Ryan saw time at right wing and at center during his rookie year and finished fourth in scoring with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points, including four power-play goals and one game winner.
A 2007 draft choice of the Nashville Predators, Ryan settled into a spot as a center on the top line during the second half of the season and did not disappoint with his play.
A strong two-way forward, Ryan has a nice scoring touch and does a good job of setting up his line mates.
Calle Ridderwall (Stockholm, Sweden) saw regular time on the left wing and improved as the season went on.
Notre Dame’s first player from Sweden took some time to adapt to the level of play in Division I and had five goals and two assists for seven points in 39 games. He’s added size and strength (5-11, 186) in his second season and will look to build on his strong finish in `07-’08.
A gifted skater with excellent hands, Ridderwall could become one of the players who plays a bigger role in his sophomore season.
Rounding out the sophomore class is right wing Ryan Guentzel (Woodbury, Minn.). As a freshman, Guentzel saw limited time early in the season but became a regular as the year progressed.
A strong skater with excellent hockey smarts, the 6-0, 184-pound right wing has added size and will be in the running for a regular lineup spot. Jackson and his staff added four freshmen to the roster of forwards.
Patrick Gaul (Pittsburgh, Pa.) is a center iceman who joins the Irish after two seasons with the U.S. National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. A strong skater with excellent offensive instincts, Gaul plays the game at both ends of the ice. With the Under-18 team in `07-’08, he had eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 56 games while serving as one of the team’s alternate captains. At 5-8, 175 pounds, Gaul was the U.S. team’s key face-off man and excelled on the penalty kill.
“Patrick is going to be a great collegiate player,” says Jackson.
“He’s not the biggest guy and he’s not the fastest guy but he’s a great character player with a big heart. He’s extremely smart and has better offensive capabilities than he was able to show with the national team. I think he can develop into a pretty good offensive player. “
Right wing Billy Maday (Burr Ridge, Ill.) becomes a part of the Notre Dame lineup this season after signing a national letter-of-intent in 2006. He played two seasons with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks where he led the team in scoring in `07-’08 with 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points in 60 games. Included in his totals are 10 power-play goals, one short-handed tally and five game winners.
In `06-’07, the 5-11, 177-pound forward had 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points with Waterloo in a season that was cut short due to a broken wrist. A highly skilled forward, Maday will be reunited with Calle Ridderwall as they were midget major teammates with the Chicago Chill where they each scored over 120 points in 2005-06.
“Billy has the potential to be a productive offensive player for us as a freshman. His biggest thing will be gaining the physical strength to be an effective player for us,” says Jackson.
The third freshman forward is left wing Kyle Murphy (Fairhaven, N.J.). A product of the hockey program at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., Murphy was seventh in scoring on the Sabres squad last season with 21 goals and 34 assists for 55 points and was a member of two U.S. Under-18 Tier I championship teams.
A strong skater, Murphy is an excellent playmaker with a big offensive upside that should put him in the running for playing time in his rookie year.
“Kyle comes from a real good hockey program at Shattuck St. Mary’s. I liked his instincts and playmaking ability,” says Jackson.
“He is going to be one of those depth guys that will have a chance to develop over the first half of the season to earn playing time. He’s got the offensive upside and intelligence to have an impact in the second half.”
Rounding out the Notre Dame roster is the team’s lone Canadian, freshman left wing Richard Ryan (Toronto, Ont.). Ryan joins the Irish after playing for the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League (OPJHL).
A talented offensive player, Ryan was second on the team and seventh in the OPJHL in scoring last season with 28 goals and 53 assists for 81 points in 48 games. Eight of his goals came on the power play with two short-handed tallies and five game winners. He was an OPJHL all-star and was the league’s most gentlemanly player in his final season.
“Richard Ryan is a good addition to the team. He’s got a good attitude and has good offensive skills and instincts,” says Jackson.
“Like all the freshmen, it will be a challenge, learning the system, playing without the puck. He comes from a good program at St. Michael’s College and has had good coaching. He’ll be in the competition for playing time this season.”
Jackson and his team won’t have much time to prepare as they officially get on the ice on Oct. 4 and face a challenging opening schedule. The Irish open with the Hall of Fame game at the University of Denver on Oct. 11. After a home-opening weekend with Sacred Heart (Oct. 17-18), the Irish will host Miami (Oct. 24-25), travel to Northern Michigan (Oct. 31-Nov. 1) and then visit defending national champion Boston College (Nov. 7).
“We will have a tough start to our schedule, so we have to be ready from the get go,” explains Jackson.
“We open with Denver, have our first CCHA games at home with Miami, travel to Northern and then Boston College. You can figure that six of our first eight games are going to be teams that are ranked in the top 10, so that will be a challenge.”
Jackson added, “We will start the league schedule with four games versus two of the top four teams in the conference. I really think the CCHA will be better this year. You can figure on the same cast of characters at the top of the league (Michigan, Miami and Michigan State). Northern and Ferris State have good teams. Ohio State has the ability to move up and Bowling Green continues to improve. There are lots of teams in the CCHA that can get in there and will cause problems if you aren’t ready to play on a given weekend.”
Notre Dame will have Northern Michigan and Lake Superior as their rivalry partners this season along with Bowling Green, playing each team twice. The Irish will face the remainder of the CCHA with two games each.
For the non-league schedule, the Irish will face Denver, Boston College and Providence on the road with a two-game home series with Sacred Heart.
Notre Dame will also play host to the first-ever Shillelagh Tournament at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., on Jan. 2-3. The Irish will face Union College in one semifinal with Minnesota-Duluth squaring off against UMass-Lowell in the other game. The third-place and championship games will be played the second day of the tournament.