Oct. 10, 2014 Notre Dame, Ind. – What a difference six months makes. In that short time frame, the University of Notre Dame hockey team went from being one of the most experienced teams in the nation to one of the youngest.
The Irish closed out the 2013-14 campaign last March with 11 seniors in the lineup. When school started in late August, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson welcomed 11 newcomers to the Compton Family Ice Arena to begin preparations for the new season. Notre Dame turned in a 23-15-2 overall record last season, the first for the Irish in Hockey East. They were 9-9-2 in the conference, finishing in a tie for seventh in conference play. In the postseason, Notre Dame defeated Boston University in the opening round of the playoffs, as the eighth seed, and then upset Boston College in the quarterfinals, winning two games to one.
That upset sent the Irish to TD Garden where they fell to UMass Lowell, the eventual champions, in a 3-0 loss.
In the NCAA West Regional in St. Paul, Minnesota, Notre Dame’s season came to an end in a dramatic 4-3 overtime loss to St. Cloud State, as the Huskies elimated the Irish from the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Gone from that team is a bevy of talent that spread across the entire lineup. Lost to graduation were goaltenders Steven Summerhays and Joe Rogers, four defensemen – Jared Beers, Stephen Johns, Kevin Lind and Shayne Taker – and five forwards – Jeff Costello, David Gerths, Bryan Rust, T.J. Tynan and Mike Voran.
Summerhays accounted for 57 wins in his four seasons at Notre Dame, the second-best total in school history. His 2.19 goals-against average in 106 career games is second among all Irish goaltenders and his .914 save percentage is third. Of course, his 13 shutouts are the most by a Notre Dame netminder.
On defense, the graduated foursome played in a combined 521 games with 31 goals and 109 assists for 140 points. Three of the four players – Johns, Lind and Taker – will play this season in the American Hockey League .
The offensive numbers are even more staggering. That group of five played in 771 games with 170 goals and 248 assists for 418 points between them. Included in those totals are T.J. Tynan’s 161 career points that ties him for 12th on the all-time points list.
Three of the five will play professionally this season, as Costello, Rust and Tynan have made the jump to the American Hockey League.
One thing about college hockey is certain and that is change. Every season there is a turnover in players, its just that most teams don’t lose as many as 11 major contributors in one season.
Jackson and his staff have been through this before. In fact, last season’s graduating class was actually a 12-man freshman class that entered the University in the fall of 2010.
The veteran coach can look back at the success that group had with the hope that his current cast responds in the same manner.
“Obviously it was a different group of kids so you’re not sure if it’s going to be similar or not,” says Jackson.
“It took a little bit longer from an adjustment standpoint early on in the year for us to get the chemistry we rely upon to be successful. “
“Our staff has talked about it a number of times about how that was one of our more enjoyable years as coaches,” adds Jackson.
“There was so much energy and enthusiasm because of all the young guys. They invigorated us as coaches and they invigorated the upperclassmen. The upperclassmen did a great job with that group.”
The freshman class of 2014-15 will look to continue the success that Notre Dame had a year ago in its first season in Hockey East.
All hockey fans know that a team will only go as far as its goaltending can take it.
The Irish are definitely young and inexperienced in goal as they return just sophomore Chad Katunar (Victoria, B.C.) who saw action in five games last season.
The 6-5, 231-pound Katunar was 2-1-0, making three starts with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage for his rookie year.
Joining the goaltending duo this season is freshman Cal Petersen (Waterloo, Iowa). At 6-1, 183-pounds, Petersen is an athletic goaltender who anticipates the game well.
He also catches with his right hand that will be something different for most shooters to see.
One of the top junior goaltenders in the nation a year ago, Petersen was the winner of USA Hockey’s Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award that is presented annually to the top U.S. goaltender at the international, professional, collegiate or junior level.
Petersen led his hometown Waterloo Black Hawks to the USHL’s Anderson Cup regular-season title as the tied for the league lead in wins (27) and was in the top 10 in goals-against average (2.50), save percentage (.915) and minutes played (2,228:40). During his two-plus seasons with Waterloo, Petersen recorded a team-record 51 wins. Look for Jackson to start the year alternating his goaltenders until one, or both, step to the head of the class.
“We brought Chad (Katunar) in specifically a year in advance of Cal (Peterson),” says Jackson.
“I think that it will be an interesting competition at every position, not just in goal. Chad has the experience of having been there, but he going to have to perform. He has to show the confidence that he can step in and play and he will get the opportunity early, but so will Cal.”
Jackson adds, “I really expect that both of them will play. It’s just a matter of if one of them steps up. If they both step up, great. I will play two guys. I think we have two qualified guys.”
Junior Nick Stasack (West Springfield, Mass.) joins the goaltending trio as the team’s third goaltender. He has waited in the wings for two seasons while playing for the Notre Dame Club team. With the club team he had a 2.50 goals-against average with a .900 save percentage. He played his prep school hockey at The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut.
Replacing four players who logged over 520 career games the last four seasons won’t be easy, but the Irish have four new comers who are going to do their best to help Irish goaltenders keep pucks out of the net.
The four newcomers – Nathan Billitier (Spencerport, N.Y.), Tony Bretzman (Mendota Heights, Minn.), Jordan Gross (Maple Grove, Minn.) and Luke Ripley (Kitimat, B.C.) will look to mesh their skills with those of the returning blue line members.
A key player in any success that the Irish will have this year is senior defenseman Robbie Russo (Westmont, Ill.).
Russo is the offensive leader of the Notre Dame defense and the quarterback of the Irish power play. He recorded four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in the first 21 games last season before being sidelined for the second half. Russo has the ability to slow the game down or speed things up with his skill and smarts with the puck.
Of his 13 career goals, 11 have come on special teams as he has nine career power-play goals and a pair of short-handers on his resume. When he went out of the lineup in the second half of the year, the Irish offense lost one of its weapons and the Irish struggled on special teams. He will be looking to cap his career with a strong senior campaign.
Notre Dame’s second senior defenseman is Eric Johnson (Verona, Wis.). One of the team’s character players, Johnson became one of Notre Dame’s top shutdown defensemen in 2012-13 and along with the graduated Lind, handled that role in his junior campaign.
He is at his best when he is playing with confidence, making quick passes and moving the puck quickly from his own zone. At 6-0, 197, he doesn’t shy away from the physical game and can be his goaltender’s best friend when it comes to clearing the front of the goal.
He has shown the ability to add to the offensive attack as he possesses a strong, accurate shot from the point that can set his forwards up for rebounds in front. As a junior, Johnson failed to light the lamp, but did add five assists in 32 games.
Junior Andy Ryan (Brighton, Mich.) had a break out season on the Irish blue line as a sophomore. Smart with the puck, Ryan saw his playing time increase throughout the season and made the most of it.
He showed great smarts on the ice as he played to his strengths and while understanding his limitations. Ryan contributed to the offense both at full strength and on the power play.
In 38 games, he scored a pair of goals and added five assists for seven points with both goals coming on the power play. He was +7 for the season and figures to be among Notre Dame’s top-four defensemen in 2014-15.
The fourth returnee is sophomore Justin Wade (Aurora, Ill.) who brings size and strength to the defense. At 6-1, 216-pounds plays the defensive, defenseman’s game. When he hits you, you know it. He continues to work on improving his foot speed and building overall confidence in his game.
A hard-working defender, Wade continues to improve all aspects of his game and will look to make that step into a top-six role. He played in six games as a freshman in limited playing time.
Joining the four veterans is the four-man rookie class. This group of defenders is much different than the four that graduated. With Johns (6-4, 233), Lind (6-3, 222) and Taker (6-4, 208) there was size and strength with offensive skill. With the freshmen, only Ripley, at 6-4, 196-pounds comes close as the other three average five-foot, 10-inches and 175 pounds.
The new defensive group brings outstanding quickness and speed to the lineup. All four move the puck well and can make things happen on the ice. All four will have the opportunity to break into the top-six group as the season moves along.
Billitier checks in at 5-10, 183 pounds and joins the Irish from the U.S. Under-18 team. A talented, puck-moving defensemen, he has quick feet that help in get out of trouble on the ice. Despite his size, Billitier does not shy away from the physical game. An excellent transitional defenseman, he has a strong, accurate shot. With the national program last season, Billitier played in 45 games, scoring a goal with four assists for five points. He was a member of the silver-medal winning U.S. team at the Four Nations Tournament in Finland.
Gross continues the trend of 5-10 defensemen as he packs 177 pounds on that frame. Another smooth-skating defenseman, Gross has incredible poise with the puck and makes things happen when he has it.
The Minnesota native has many of the qualities that Russo also has and will be an option to quarterback one of the Irish power-play units. He’s got a strong shot from the point, but prefers to take high-percentage shots to get pucks through to the net and avoids having them blocked, which creates scoring chances in front.
Last season, the former Green Bay Gambler played in 50 games and chipped in two goals and 23 assists for 25 points. In 120 career games in Green Bay, Gross had 11 goals and 47 assists for 58 points.
At 6-4, 196-pounds, Ripley will remind fans of the graduated Taker as he is strong on his skates and moves the puck rapidly to his teammates.
He has the tools to be a solid contributor on defense after playing his junior hockey in the BCHL with the Powell River Kings. He battled injuries last year, playing in just 29 games while recording eight assists. The previous year, he played in 45 games, scoring twice with 11 assists for 13 points and 85 penalty minutes.
“We’ve wanted to change things a bit due to the league we’re playing in,” says Jackson.
“I think that Hockey East for the most part, has a lot of high tempo teams. You have to make good, solid decisions coming out of your zone or you turn pucks over. You need to have guys that can get back to pucks, get some pucks first and then you have to make a play with that puck because you’re going to be under some instant pressure.”
“We consciously tried to change our defense a little bit more and that’ll continue to happen over the next couple years where we’ve tried to isolate specific types of players that will help us in the possession game.”
As a group, the goaltenders and the defensemen will look to keep the defensive numbers down. In 2013-14, the Irish surrendered 86 goals in 40 games for a 2.15 average per game. Numbers like that play a key role in winning games.
Offensively, Notre Dame will look to build on its offensive numbers from last season when the Irish averaged 3.00 goals per game, scoring 120 goals in 40 contests. Notre Dame loses its top two scorers from a year ago in Tynan (eight goals, 30 assists, 38 points) and Rust (17 goals, 16 assists, 33 points), plus 13 more goals from Costello.
They do return a nucleus of players that has proven to be consistent, solid point producers in their time with the Irish.
Leading that group is the dynamic, playmaking Vince Hinostroza (So., Barlett, Ill.) who finished third in scoring last season with eight goals and 24 assists for 32 points. Those totals ranked third among Hockey East freshmen and earned him a spot on the league’s all-rookie team.
Despite being 5-9, 180-pounds, Hinostroza doesn’t stray from the physical play and is more than willing to take his lumps in front of the goal.
He has the knack for finding the open man and has all the tools to be a top Division I player. This season, he will look to shoot the puck more to add to his numbers in the scoring column.
Right behind Hinostroza on the scoresheet is junior left wing Mario Lucia (Plymouth, Minn.) who is the top returning goal scorer after lighting the lamp with 16 in his sophomore year.
One of Notre Dame’s most skilled players, Lucia has a gift for finding the back of the goal and will be counted on to improve those numbers this season. He finished fourth on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points and had a remarkable 19.3% shooting mark, scoring his 16 goals on just 83 shots.
Expect Lucia to be Notre Dame’s top sniper on the power play, as he was a season ago when he led the team with seven power-play goals. He and Hinostroza have developed a knack for finding each other on the ice and will look to continue to make things happen.
Right behind Lucia on the scoresheet is junior left wing Sam Herr (Hinsdale, Ill.) who had a break out season as a sophomore. After scoring just one point as a freshman, Herr scored early and often last season, finishing the year with 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points. Of his 14 goals, four were on the power play and four were game winners.
Herr brings size (6-0, 213) to the left side and the willingness to play a physical game in the corners and in front of the net. He will serve as one of the team’s alternate captains and look to take one more step in his development this season.
A streaky scorer, Herr will try to change his ways and be more consistent, contributing every night in the scoring column. He’s got the tools to be a prototypical power forward like Anders Lee was two years ago. If he can make that big step this year, it could propel him into a dominant kind of season. The remaining returnees on offense will all look to step things up this season. After watching guys like Tynan, Lee, Rust and Costello do it, now it’s there turn.
Aiken played his first season for the Irish as a junior, joining the team after playing a season with the Notre Dame Club team. A smart, team player, Aiken saw action in five games, getting his chance to play when injuries hit the team in Nov. and Dec.
Peterson saw action in 18 games last season and had one goal. An outstanding skater, he brings a physical game to the ice and has the skills to be a top penalty killer. Schneider turned in a career year in 2013-14 as he had career highs in goals (8), assists (8), points (16), shots on goal (83), short-handed goals (2) and game winners (1).
One of Notre Dame’s two alternate captains, Schneider possesses tremendous speed and a dynamic shot. In the past, he has adapted his role to what the coaching staff needed him to do and has been one of the team’s top shutdown forwards
This season may see Schneider return to a more offensive game to take advantage of his skating and scoring skills.
A true team leader, Schneider plays the game at both ends of the ice and is one of Jackson’s top, two-way forwards. An outstanding student off the ice, the native of Vienna, Austria, will look to end his Notre Dame career on a positive note. Wuthrich has had a solid career in his first three seasons, but has the potential for an outstanding senior year. As a junior, he had six goals and seven assists for 13 points in 40 games. Three of his goals came on the power play.
Nagging injuries have played a part in holding Wuthrich’s game down to a degree, but he will look to be more consistent this season. At 6-1, 204-pounds, he has the size to make life tough around the goal for defenses and goaltenders and needs to play with more of an edge, taking the game to them. Like Schneider, Wuthrich will look to finish on a high note and reach a new level with his game this season.
DiPauli battled injuries all season as a sophomore in 2013-14, playing in just 26 games, scoring three goals with two assists for five points. A 5-11, 191-pounds, DiPauli can play at left wing or center. He brings speed and intensity to the lineup and is one of Notre Dame’s top penalty killers.
Fogarty, who will serve as team captain in his junior year, has been Jackson’s top two-way center during his career. As a sophomore, he had a solid season scoring three goals with eight assists for 11 points in 33 games.
This season, the Irish coaching staff would like to see Fogarty revert back to the offensive game that he showed at Edina High School or with Penticton in the BCHL. The leader of the Irish will look to become more of a two-way center than just a defensive forward, a role he has excelled at in his first two seasons.
Both players saw limited action in their freshman year, but could break in this season.
Ostlie split time between defense and forward last season and will make the move to right wing in 2014-15. He played forward earlier in his career and impressed the Notre Dame coaches with his physical presence when he played at forward. A strong skater with good stick skills, he could break in to the regular rotation on the right side.
Thomas played in 11 games last season and scored a goal with an assist for two points. His goal was a game winner. At 6-3, 214-pounds, Thomas is strong on his skates and enjoys the physical aspects of the game. He has good hands and could work his way into a full-time role this year.
Five new forwards dot the roster and bring a variety of skills to the attack. Anders Bjork (Mequon, Wis.) is a talented 5-11, 183-pound left wing who is a playmaker with the ability to make those around him better. A versatile player, he can play all three forward spots and play them well.
A product of a talented U.S. Under-18 team in 2013-14, Bjork was sixth in scoring with 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points and was a member of the gold-medal winning team at the Under-18 World Championships in April.
He is the son of 1983 Irish All-America Kirt Bjork and the cousin of 2009 All-America Erik Condra.
Bo Brauer (Edina, Minn.) joins the Notre Dame attack at right wing. A big, strong, two-way forward, Brauer is 6-3, 210-pounds and is a presence in the offensive zone. After helping Edina to the 2013 Minnesota State 2AA championship, he took his game to the BCHL where he played for the Naniamo Clippers. There, he scored 19 goals with 16 assists for 35 points.
With his size and reach, he has the ability to create space and his own shot on the ice. A power forward, he could make his living around the goal crease and in the slot.
Dawson Cook (Cadillac, Mich.) brings size and a strong defensive game to center. He is 6-1, 205-pounds and while known for his defensive skills, saw his offensive game come to life late last season with the USHLs Green Bay Gamblers.
He chipped in 15 goals with 18 assists for 33 points in 59 games last season. A key member of the freshman class is center Connor Hurley (Edina, Minn.). A talented, highly skilled center, Hurley has tremendous playmaking skills with great hands around the goal.
The 6-2, 178-pound center has scored everywhere he has played throughout his career. He will look to add some weight to his frame this season but will be counted on to add to the offensive attack.
He split his final season in juniors in the USHL with Muskegon and Green Bay, finishing the year with 13 goals and 37 assists for 50 points in 57 games.
Rounding out the group of freshman forwards is Jake Evans (Toronto, Ont.). He gives the Irish versatility since he can play right wing or center. A talented playmaker, Evans had 16 goals and 47 assists for 63 points as a member of the St. Michael’s Buzzers in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
He’s got great hockey instincts and has the ability to make plays. As he adapts to the college game, look for Evans to become a top-notch goal scorer for the Irish. With all the new faces, Jackson knows it will be important for the freshmen to learn fast and start to contribute early in the season.
“I think it will be critical on the back end, whether it’s in goal or if it’s on defense,” says Jackson.
“All of the freshmen are capable. Some are projected to be projects, but we have high expectations for two or three of the forwards, and two or three of the defensemen to step up and contribute right away. They are going to have to do it in key situations.”
“Offensively, I like our depth and the potential that we have on our lines,” says Jackson.
“We have a good mix of players. There are guys who bring energy and play physical and guys who can make plays and score. We are still looking to develop chemistry but that will come with practice.”