Oct. 8, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a six-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2009-10 Notre Dame winter sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the reigning CCHA champion Fighting Irish ice hockey team.
The 2009-10 Notre Dame hockey team will enter the new season looking to continue its three-year run of success while looking to add that one banner that is still missing from the rafters of the Joyce Center.
Over the last three seasons, the Irish have become one of college hockey’s most dominant programs. Since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, Notre Dame has won 90 games on the way to a 90-29-10 overall record and a .742 winning percentage.
In those three years, the Irish have won the CCHA regular-season title twice (2006-07 and 2008-09) and added CCHAÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Tournament titles in `07 and `09 respectively. There have been three consecutive trips to the NCAAÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Tournament (Notre Dame had only been there one other time), including a trip to the national title game in 2008 where the Irish fell to Boston College for the NCAA Championship.
So that brings us back to the season at hand. It’s safe to say that the Irish are ready for the challenge.
First on the docket for head coach Jeff Jackson and his staff will be replacing six seniors who saw a great deal of playing time during their careers. Lost to graduation were forwards Erik Condra, Christian Hanson, Garrett Regan and Justin White, defenseman Luke Lucyk and goaltender Jordan Pearce. Those six players were the first to play four seasons under Jackson and during that time recorded a record of 103-48-14 (.667).
During the 2008-09 season that group accounted for 45 goals and 59 assists for 104 points offensively while Pearce proved to be one of the best goaltenders in the nation with a 30-6-3 overall record, a stingy 1.68 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage to go with eight shutouts on the year.
The biggest job of all might just be finding a replacement for Pearce in the Irish goal. For the past two seasons, Jackson basically wrote Pearce’s name into the starting spot on the lineup sheet and let the big goaltender do the rest as he started 80 of a possible 87 games, turning in a 53-21-4 record.
Jackson will have a group of four goaltenders to pick from — junior Brad Phillips (Farmington Hills, Mich.), senior Tom O’Brien (Mokena, Ill.), freshman Mike Johnson (Verona, Wis.) and junior Brian Brooke (Eden Prairie, Minn.)
Phillips figures to be the front runner. At 6-2, 181 pounds, Phillips covers a great deal of the net and has tremendous quickness. He was sidelined last season by a knee injury suffered in the preseason that required surgery.
Junior Brad Phillips would appear to be the front runner to replace Jordan Pearce in the Notre Dame net, having logged a 5-1 record with a 1.53 GAA and .923 save percentage as a freshman before missing last season with an injury.
A 2007 draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillips played in five games as a freshman in `07-’08, making five starts with a 5-1-0 record, a 1.53 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage with one shutout.
Behind Phillips is O’Brien who served as the number two man last season. He made the first two starts of his collegiate career in `08-’09, going 1-0-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and a .920 save percentage. His lone win was a shutout and it came in his first career start, a 7-0 whitewashing of Sacred Heart on Oct. 18.
Looking to push both goaltenders is Johnson who is in his first season with Notre Dame. A talented goaltender, Johnson played last year with the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders where he was 25-12-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage with three shutouts.
Brooke is Notre Dame’s fourth goaltender who joined the team last year after Phillips was hurt and provided the Irish with a solid third goaltender. He has worked hard over the last year to improve all aspects of his game and should be a valuable contributor in 2009-10.
“This is Brad’s (Phillips) opportunity to shine; this is why we recruited him to be our number one goaltender,” said Jackson.
“He’s fully recovered from his injury and seems to have the right focus and frame of mind for the coming year. He’s proven in the past with the national program and even as a freshman that he has the ability to be a high-level goaltender. His biggest challenge will be the mental challenge of playing on a nightly basis.”
“Tommy (O’Brien) has always shown that he has the skill and ability as a goaltender, because no one works harder,” added Jackson.
“I really like Mike Johnson’s style. He stands right in there,” explained Jackson.
“He has no fear and that’s a big thing. He reacts very well to the play and that’s a great place to start.”
“Brian (Brooke) did a great job in helping us last year when Brad went down. He fit into our locker room very well and he’s really improved his game,” said Jackson.
Whoever starts in goal for the Irish will have the benefit of having one of the nation’s best defenses playing in front of them. In two of the last three seasons, Notre Dame’s defense and goaltenders have teamed up to allow the fewest goals in the nation per game. In `06-07, the Irish gave up 1.68 per game while in `08-’09, the total was 1.73 per contest.
The group of eight defensemen is made up of two seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.
The leader of the Notre Dame defense is senior Kyle Lawson (New Hudson, Mich.). One of the top all-around defenders in both the CCHAÃ¢â‚¬Ë†and the nation, Lawson has a complete game.
A second team all-CCHA selection as a junior, Lawson also was selected by the conference coaches as the CCHA’s top defensive defenseman in `08-’09. The 5-11, 208-pound blueliner also won Notre Dame’s William Donald Nyrop Award as the team’s top defenseman.
The steady defenseman saw action in all situations and did just about everything that was asked of him. He had four goals and 19 assists for 23 points with three power-play goals and one short-handed tally. His +14 mark was second on the Irish roster. When the game is on the line, Lawson, a Carolina Hurricane draft choice, will be on the ice.
Joining Lawson as a senior on defense is Brett Blatchford (Temperance, Mich.).
A hard-working defenseman, Blatchford is strong with the puck and has seen a great deal of duty on the Notre Dame power play during his career. As a junior, he played in all 40 games and had 25 assists for the year with 14 coming on the power play. His +12 rating was third among Irish defenders.
The two juniors – Ian Cole (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Teddy Ruth (Naperville, Ill.) join Lawson and Blatchford to form the team’s top four defenders. Both have been regulars in the Notre Dame lineup since arriving in South Bend and just continue to get better.
Cole took his game to a new level as a sophomore as he was a first team all-CCHA selection and a first team All-American while leading the Irish blue line with 26 points on six goals and 20 assists. The owner of a strong, accurate shot from the point, three of his goals came on the power play and two were game winners as his +15 was tops on the team.
A first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Blues in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Cole is a 6-1, 220-pound defender who is a physical force on the Notre Dame defense. At 6-1, 208 pounds, Ruth is the stopper on the Irish defense.
A true, stay-at home defender, the second-round choice of the Washington Capitals in 2007, Ruth is a force in front of the net and in the corners where he makes life miserable for opposing forwards with his forceful, physical style of play. He had a pair of goals and five assists for seven points last season and was +11 for the year.
Joining the top four on defense are four others who will battle for the remaining two spots. The trio of sophomores includes Nick Condon (Wausau,Wis.), Sean Lorenz (Littleton, Colo.) and Eric Ringel (Hinckley, Ohio) while Sam Calabrese (Park Ridge, Ill.) is the lone freshman.
Lorenz moved into the lineup as a freshman and played in all 40 games, collecting three assists while being +7 on the season. He plays a smart, defensive style of hockey while adjusting to the speed of the game. Strong with the puck, the 6-1, 202 pound stay-at-home defenseman picked his spots when it came to joining the offensive attack.
Condon and Ringel saw limited playing time, appearing in three and six games respectively. Both players showed a flair for the offensive game and worked to improve their game at the defensive end of the ice. Condon is 5-9, 170-pound and Ringel is 6-0, 198.
Calabrese is the lone freshman to join the team and he comes to the Irish after spending two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program where he saw duty both on defense and offense during his two seasons. A 5-11, 185-pound defender, Calabrese is an excellent skater who is moves the puck well in transition.
Jackson knows he has one of the top groups of blueliners in the nation.
Senior Kyle Lawson was a second-team all-CCHA pick last season and was tabbed as the CCHA’s top defenseman a year ago.
“I believe that our top four defensemen are as good as there are in college hockey.” said Jackson.
“Kyle (Lawson) has the ability to bring it at both ends of the ice. He’s a great defender; there is no question about that. The intangible with Kyle is his grittiness, his intensity. He lays it all on the line for the team.”
“In my opinion, Brett (Blatchford) is one of the most unheralded defensemen in college hockey,” said Jackson.
“He has improved his game defensively and his skating over the last two years. He’s a steadying influence on our defense. Brett may have been our most consistent defenseman last season.”
“Ian (Cole) is one of the top defensemen in college hockey and has the potential to be “the” top defenseman in college hockey,” added the Irish head coach.
“I’m expecting big things out of Teddy (Ruth) this year. The reasons we wanted him in a Notre Dame uniform are his grittiness, his character and his toughness. We’ve encouraged him to be more than a defensive defenseman but that is the strength of his game. He is excited by the challenge of taking his game to a new level. He’s one of the most difficult defenders to play against in the country because he’s big, strong and solid and isn’t afraid to hit.”
“I think that Sean Lorenz is going to take a step in that direction this year. He’s got to play with confidence and minimize the high-risk situations. He’s got the potential and we need to see him play more minutes,” explained Jackson.
“The one thing we know we have to do better is balance out the minutes. We are doing them an injustice by playing them 30 minutes a game. Our goal is to see that we cut a few guys minutes down, meaning that other guys play a few minutes more. That’s where the younger guys have to step up and make the most of the opportunities they have to play.”
Offensively, Notre Dame will have to replace the scoring and leadership of Condra, Hanson, Regan and White. Those four players had 45 goals between them and were key members of a balanced offensive attack.
The Irish will look to build on that consistency that saw all four lines contribute every night. Notre Dame had six players with 10 or more goals while 14 players had 15 or more points on the year.
The Irish power play was a key component of the attack as it accounted for 51 of the team’s 135 goals, leading the nation with a 22.6% success rate.
Four returning seniors will play key roles in the Irish offense again this season.
Leading the group is senior center Kevin Deeth (Gig Harbor, Wash.). The 5-7, 170-pound forward brings speed, skill and a bit of a mean streak to his game. Deeth had four goals and led Notre Dame with 27 assists last season for 31 points, the fourth-best total on the team. He uses his speed on the forecheck to drive opponents crazy with his tenacious style of play. Strong on faceoffs, look for Deeth to be on the ice in just about every key situation. One of the team’s leaders, he will serve as an alternate captain this year.
Ryan Thang (Edina, Minn.) will handle the captain’s duties while looking to put his junior season behind him. The 6-0, 193-pound left wing scored 10 goals with nine assists for 19 points on the season, career lows for the veteran goal scorer. He also suffered a high-ankle sprain injury that cost him seven games during the year. A prototypical power forward, Thang had four power-play goals with one short-handed tally and two game winners. Thang is on the ice in all situations for the Irish and is a threat to score at anytime with his booming shot.
Joining Thang on the left side is Dan Kissel (Crestwood, Ill.) who has become a consistent contributor during his career. A strong, speedy skater, Kissel has become a standout on the Irish penalty-killing unit and had six goals and 11 assists a year ago for 17 points. He brings speed and a tenacious style of play to the lineup.
Rounding out the four seniors up front is Christiaan Minella (Aurora, Colo.) who had a break out season in 2008-09, with career highs in goals (9), assists (7) and points (16). At 6-2, 214 pounds, Minella brings size and a physical style of play that opens the ice for his linemates. The rugged right wing is at his best when he delivers his thunderous checks that set the tone for the Irish early in the game.
“Our senior forwards will be counted on this season to provide leadership and continue to do the things they have done the last three seasons,” said Jackson.
“Kevin Deeth has to be a catalyst for our offense. He brings it every day in practice, in games, in the weight room and the classroom. He drives guys crazy on the ice. He’s our best faceoff man and we’ll count on him to shoot more,” commented Jackson.
“Ryan (Thang) has been a leader since he got here and he’s focused and determind this year. He’s worked hard in his three years here and it would be great for him to have the kind of year he had as a freshman. He’s a dangerous shooter and a consistent player every night.”
“We’ll be looking for Danny (Kissel) to be more consistent every night. He’s shown some great offensive ability and needs to take advantage of his chances. He can be a dynamic one-on-one player and a dangerous penalty killer,” said Jackson.
“Christiaan Minella took a big step last year and he has the potential to be a factor in our attack. When he plays with that power forward mentality he’s tough on the walls and hard to control in the offensive zone,” explained Jackson.
Three juniors have played integral roles during their first two seasons wearing the interlocking ND.
Leading the trio is left wing Calle Ridderwall (Stockholm, Sweden) who became an offensive force in the Irish lineup a year ago.
The 6-0, 188-pounder finished second in scoring with a team-high 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points. An honorable mention all-CCHA selection, Ridderwall led the team with 11 power-play goals and tied for the team lead with five game winners. His power-play totals tied him for second in the CCHA and fifth in the nation.
Junior left wing Calle Ridderwall has come through in the clutch time and time again in his collegiate career, and is coming off a 2008-09 campaign that saw him register a team-high 17 goals and 15 assists on the way to honorable mention all-CCHA status.
Center Ben Ryan (Brighton, Mich.) proved to be “Mr. Consistent,” on the Notre Dame attack as he scored 12 goals with 15 assists for 27 points. Ryan is one of the top two-way centers in the CCHA and is equally adept in the offensive or defensive zone. Three of his goals came on the power play and he was tied with Ridderwall with five game-winning goals.
The 5-11, 192-pounder comes to play every night and was a key player down the stretch for Notre Dame in 2008-09. He scored the game-winning goals in each of the team’s wins at Joe Louis Arena to capture Notre Dame’s second CCHA championship.
Ryan Guentzel (Woodbury, Minn.) rounds out the trio and has proven to be a strong, two-way player with a knack for coming up with key goals at key times.
A hard-working grinder, the 6-0, 180-pound Guentzel is one of the key players on the fourth line for the Irish who played a key role in giving the team a balanced scoring attack from a year ago. He had career highs in goals (4), assists (7) and points (11) while playing in all 40 games.
Calle (Ridderwall) had a break out year last year and really became a factor for us,” said Jackson.
“He’s fun to watch; he’s always around the puck and he makes things happen. Teams know about him now and will come after him and he has to adjust to that. We need him to be a factor not just on the power play, but five-on-five.”
“We’ll be looking for Ben Ryan to pick up where he finished last season,” said Jackson.
“He had a great second half, making plays and scoring big goals for us. He’s playing with confidence. We’ll be counting on him in the faceoff circle as he is our only right-handed center.”
“Ryan (Guentzel) has a great mind for the game. He understands his role and does all the little things well. He competes hard and makes good decisions on the ice. He’s got a leadership role on this team,” said Jackson.
Four sophomores – Patrick Gaul (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Billy Maday (Burr Ridge, Ill.), Kyle Murphy (Fairhaven, N.J.) and Richard Ryan (Toronto, Ont.) – joined the team a year ago with Gaul and Maday being the only ones to see regular action.
Gaul saw duty throughout the season at center where he proved to be a solid face-off man, winning over 60% of his draws. He got into 15 games and recorded three assists. The 5-8, 184-pound center is fiesty and plays the game with an edge.
Maday stepped into the lineup like he belonged there, scoring a goal on his first career shot in the season opener at Denver. He would finish fifth on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 14 assists for 30 points. Seven of his goals were on the power play as he saw time both up front and on one of the points during the year. His fine freshman year earned him CCHA all-rookie team honors.
A pair of left wings – Murphy and Ryan – will look to work their way into the lineup this season. Murphy, a product of the Shattuck St. Mary’s program didn’t see any action as a freshman but used the time to work hard and develop his game. At 5-8, 169 pounds, he uses his speed and skating ability to make things happen on the ice.
Ryan checks in at 5-10, 186 pounds and saw action in three games, but did not get on the scoresheet. He’s a talented offensive player who has been blocked by the team’s deep lineup. He continues to work for the opportunity to see action during the 2009-10 campaign.
“Patrick Gaul was in and out of the lineup last season but played a key role late in the year when he got his chance due to injuries. He’s good on faceoffs and he plays with an edge to his game. His offensive skills are there, he just has to be confident when he gets the chance,” said Jackson.
“Billy (Maday) was a standout as a freshman and really had a strong year offensively. He’s got great instincts with the puck and a great shot. Ã¢â‚¬Ë†Like Calle, he’ll be a target this year and will have to move his game to the next level. We need him to be a force five-on-five just like he is on the power play.”
“Rich Ryan will look to take the next step this year. He needs to learn to use his speed to become more of a factor. He’s got a year of experience under his belt and will look to earn a spot in the lineup,” said Jackson.
“Kyle Murphy has a great attitude and a tremendous work ethic. He has worked hard and is determinded to get a chance to play. He’s one of those guys that just makes you notice him; he does something everyday in practice to show what he can bring to the table,” commented Jackson.
Joining the lineup this season are four talented freshmen who should bring a great deal of skill to the lineup. First on the list is left wing Nick Larson (Apple Valley, Minn.) who is a prototypical power forward at 6-2, 200 pounds. A fourth round selection of the Calgary Flames in the 2008 Entry Draft, Larson has played the past two season with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. A former teammate of Maday’s in Waterloo, Larson had 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points with 11 goals coming on the power play. He also led Waterloo with 144 penalty minutes
Larson uses his size and strength to make things happen offensively as he’s strong in the corners and in front of the net to go with a strong shot and a quick release. He and Minella could team up to give the Irish a big, physical line to shake up the oppositon’s defense during a game on the forecheck.
A second USHL alum is right wing Kevin Nugent (New Canaan, Conn.). Nugent joins the Irish after playing last season with the Tri-City Storm where he had nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points on the year. An outstanding point producer during his high school and prep school career in Connecticut, Nugent brings size (6-3, 203) and skill to the lineup. The son of former Irish player, Kevin Nugent, Sr. `78, he will look to work his way into the lineup as a freshman.
Also joining the Irish in `09-’10 is highly touted right wing Kyle Palmieri (Montvale, N.J.) who joins the team from the USA Under-18 team and the national program.
A first-round draft choice of the Anaheim Ducks, Palmieri is a gifted player with outstanding speed and a great shot. At 5-11, 195 pounds, he’s a solid two-way forward who loves to go hard to the net. With the Under-18 team a year ago, he had 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points in 33 games.
Rounding out the freshman class and the Irish roster is center Riley Sheahan (St. Catharine’s, Ont.). At 6-2, 200 pounds, Sheahan gives the Irish size and speed at center ice.
Freshman center Riley Sheahan will look to be a contributor for the Fighting Irish this season after collecting 27 goals and 46 assists last season for the St. Catharine’s Falcons of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe League.
A talented playmaker, Sheahan has all the tools to be a dynamic player. He has outstanding hockey instincts to go with a great shot and a quick release. He is a player who is eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft as he won’t turn 18 until December and is already listed by the NHL Central Scouting as an A-rated player.
Last season with the St. Catharine’s Falcons of the Golden Horseshoe League in Ontario, Sheahan had 27 goals and 46 assists for 73 points.
“Our freshmen really bring a great deal of skill and talent to the lineup,” said Jackson.
“Nick (Larson) is a true power forward. He’s a good skater who plays a physical brand of hockey. He’s good along the boards and has that ability to just bull his way to the net. He’s willing to pay the price in front and in the corners and should be a factor this season.”
“Kevin Nugent has the potential and brings a lot of upside to his game. He’s a big kid, who competes hard. He’s got good instincts and is smart with the puck. He will compete for ice time this season,” said Jackson.
“Kyle Palmieri has the chance to be a really special player. He plays with energy, is highly skilled and has some great offensive instincts. He plays with grit and intensity. He has that ability to pull people out of there seats,” said Jackson.
“Riley (Sheahan) has some special offensive gifts. He’s a big kid, who skates well and has the ability to make those around him better. He has that “it” factor. We all need to be patient with him and remember that he is one of the youngest freshmen in the country and give him time to adjust and let the game come to him,” Jackson explained.
After starting official practice on Saturday, Oct. 2, Jackson and his team won’t have much time to prepare for the season as the Irish open with Alabama-Huntsville in a two-game series on Oct. 9-10. The month of October has Notre Dame playing seven of its first eight games at home, including four with teams from Hockey East – two with Providence and one with Boston College at the Joyce Center – and one at Boston University on Oct. 20.
This season, the Irish are in the same CCHAÃ¢â‚¬Ë†schedule cluster with Michigan and Michigan State so fans will get to see those two schools along with Bowling Green four times, two at home and two on the road.
— ND —